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Compare Contrast Essay Writing Tips

Erin H. has been one of Kibin’s favorite editors since August 2013. I had a chance to ask her for her best compare and contrast essay tips. Here’s what she had to say.

In Simple Terms, What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

A compare and contrast essay, at its heart, describes how two things are similar and how they are different to make a larger point about one or both of the subjects of comparison.

We humans love to compare things. We read articles comparing technical specifications to help us decide between an Apple phone and an Android one. We compare the stances of political candidates to help us make sound voting decisions. We also compare seemingly unrelated things, people, or ideas — like literary characters or the genomes of spiders and humans — to deepen our understanding of those subjects or to see them in a new light.

And sometimes, like New York Times contributor Eric Spitznagel, we do it for a laugh.

Compare and Contrast Essay Tips: What Makes a Good Essay?

A great compare and contrast essay paints its subjects in a fresh light, telling the readers something they didn’t already know or had never considered before. There is nothing better than a delightful juxtaposition of two things that seem like polar opposites; this writer once wrote compare and contrast essays about nuns and prostitutes and Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner!

That said, a good compare and contrast essay doesn’t have to be shocking to be interesting and engaging. Great compare and contrast essays might help readers make a decision, facilitate a new understanding of two subjects, or nominate a “winner” between two subjects — but at their heart, the best essays of this genre always say something fresh and are driven by a clear purpose.

Compare and Contrast Essay Tips: What Makes a Bad Essay?

A bad compare and contrast essay has no clear purpose — that is, it describes the similarities and differences without making a larger point about the subjects being compared and contrasted. In fact, I often see writers fall into the “easy thesis” trap with these essays. Say we’re comparing electric vehicles and biodiesel vehicles. Writing the thesis is easy, right?

  • Electric vehicles and biodiesel vehicles share many similarities, but they also have several differences.
  • While electric vehicles and biodiesel vehicles seem to be very different, they are actually quite similar in some ways.

BOOM. Easy. Dust those hands off. You’re done, right? Nope.

Each states that the two subjects are both alike and different, but….so what? Why does it matter? Without making any meaningful statement about the significance of their similarities and differences, why write the essay at all? You could literally copy and paste any two subjects into those thesis statements, which ultimately means they are way too bland.

A better thesis says why those similarities and differences matter. Maintaining the electric vs. biodiesel vehicles theme, let’s look at some better thesis examples:

  • While biodiesel and electric vehicles use radically different energy sources to operate, they both offer a viable alternative to fossil-fuel-guzzling vehicles that dominate the auto market.
  • Biodiesel and electric vehicles both offer environmental benefits compared to cars that run on gasoline, but their differences in consumer appeal and ease of refueling makes it unclear which will dominate the market in the coming decades.
  • While biodiesel and electric vehicles are similar in terms of their environmental benefits and costs, the ease of refueling biodiesel cars compared to recharging electric cars makes biodiesel king in the battle between greener automobiles.

These thesis statements approach the topic in three different ways:

1.) By arguing that both are equally viable

2.) By highlighting their differences and the uncertainty of the future market

3.) By picking a “winner” between the two topics

However, they all make an argument that you will support through comparing and contrasting the two subjects in the essay.

What Are 3 Simple Compare and Contrast Essay Tips?

1. Determine whether you should compare, contrast, or both.

Pay careful attention to writing prompts and instructions for compare and contrast essays. Some essays require you to compare and contrast your subjects, while other assignments instruct you to compare or contrast. Other times, comparing and contrasting two or more subjects is merely a portion of a larger essay assignment.

2. Identify MEANINGFUL points of comparison.

When comparing and contrasting two subjects, it’s important to focus on meaningful points of comparison (and contrast).

For instance, if your instructor asks you to compare and contrast two books you read in a literature class, noting that both books were published in Times New Roman font is probably not a meaningful point of comparison. Comparing and contrasting the characters, plots, settings, literary devices, and other literary elements is a much more sound strategy.

Graphic organizers lend themselves well to organizing points of comparison and contrast during the brainstorming phase.

The good old Venn diagram is a simple way of organizing your ideas. Simply grab a blank sheet of paper, and draw two large circles that overlap in the middle. Label one of the circles for your first subject, one of the circles for the second subject. Points of contrast, or differences, go in the main section of the circles. When you identify something that the subjects have in common, you list it in the middle, where the circles overlap. If you prefer a digital approach, try this handy Venn diagram generator.

A compare/contrast chart is another great way to list and organize your ideas. Check out this example that compares the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series.

3. Pick a sound organizational strategy.

There are two primary ways to organize a compare and contrast essay.

The first is the block structure, in which you describe the qualities of one subject in one body paragraph and the qualities of the second subject in another body paragraph.

The second organizational strategy is the point-by-point comparison, in which each body paragraph focuses on a similarity or difference and includes discussion of both subjects. Check out these helpful outlines and tips for helping you choose the best organizational strategy for your topic and argument as well as short examples of essays organized using each strategy.

What Is Your Biggest Writing Pet Peeve?

One of my biggest peeves as an editor is a lack of transitions in writing. Transitions are the glue that holds an essay together. Transitions make all the difference between an essay that flows logically and one that seems disjointed and awkward, even if the core ideas are the same. Transitions are essential in compare and contrast essays. There are entire sets of transitions designed especially for comparing and contrasting. Use transitions well. Your readers will be grateful for the signposts that guide them through your writing.

Oops, something’s missing. Let’s try that again, now with more transitions:

One of my biggest peeves is a lack of transitions in writing. As our own Naomi points out, transitions are the glue that hold an essay together, and they can make all the difference between an essay that flows logically and one that seems disjointed and awkward, even if the core ideas are the same. For this reason, transitions are essential in compare and contrast essays, and in fact, there are entire sets of transitions designed especially for comparing and contrasting. If you use them well, your readers will be grateful for the signposts that guide them through your writing.

About Erin H.

Erin H. has been wowing Kibin customers since her first edit in August 2013. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

Favorite season: Fall
Favorite movie: Pulp Fiction
Favorite color: Teal
Favorite beverage: Coffee

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of comparison and contrast in writing.
  2. Explain organizational methods used when comparing and contrasting.
  3. Understand how to write a compare-and-contrast essay.

The Purpose of Comparison and Contrast in Writing

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or both.

The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.

Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

Writing at Work

Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast. Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals.

Exercise 1

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.

  1. Romantic comedies
  2. Internet search engines
  3. Cell phones

Exercise 2

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.

  1. Department stores and discount retail stores
  2. Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
  3. Dogs and cats

The Structure of a Comparison and Contrast Essay

The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  1. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other
  2. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

See Figure 10.1 “Comparison and Contrast Diagram”, which diagrams the ways to organize our organic versus conventional vegetables thesis.

Figure 10.1 Comparison and Contrast Diagram

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table 10.3 “Phrases of Comparison and Contrast” for examples.

Table 10.3 Phrases of Comparison and Contrast

one similarityone difference
another similarityanother difference
likein contrast
in a similar fashionwhereas

Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay

First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample compare-and-contrast essay.

Writing at Work

Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague have to present something at work.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the outlines you created in Note 10.75 “Exercise 3”, and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.

Key Takeaways

  • A compare-and-contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
  • The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
  • The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
  • There are two main organizing strategies for compare-and-contrast essays.

    1. Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
    2. Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.
  • Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.

This is a derivative of Writing for Success by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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