9 Easy Steps for Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay
Compare and contrast essays are common assignments in middle and high school English classes. They frequently show up in college as well, and while this task may not be explicitly given to professionals, the ability to compare two subjects critically during the writing process is crucial to academics of every age.
Once you master this type of essay, you will see benefits throughout your life. Strong comparison skills will help you write better college entrance essays and argue your point in debates. These skills will improve your test scores and deepen your college papers. Looking professionally, they could aid in easily convincing team members of anything from a new workflow software to a functional coffeemaker to a promotion.
In order to write a good compare and contrast essay, though, you need the ability to formulate a highly-researched and well-structured piece of academic writing. That means understanding the type of essay assigned, familiarizing yourself with this specific writing process, and knowing how to effectively incorporate transition words. It also requires a firm grasp of different styles of citations, in order to lend confidence to your argument and give proper credit to others.
Let’s take a look at what exactly a comparison essay is, what purpose its writing serves, and how to write one in nine easy steps.
What is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
A compare and contrast essay is exactly what it sounds like. You take two – or sometimes more – items and evaluate the similarities and differences between them. Your paper might tackle any subject, such as science, history, economics, literature, or philosophy.
Comparing essays are different from other types of essays that are commonly assigned in school. For instance, a descriptive essay usually pertains to one subject, book, or idea, exploring it in detail. A persuasive essay, on the other hnad, tries to convince the reader to take one specific course of action.
The main aspect of contrast essay topics is that they consider two subjects or ideas at once. Some of the most common contrast essay examples include comparisons between:
- Exploring two different scientific methods for similarities and differences in approach
- Reading contextually two classic novels from the same time period
- Examining contrasting political systems in the United States or abroad
- Looking at two different cultures to see values and practices they share and, conversely, do not share
- Considering two possible approaches to a moral or logistical problem
- Exploring two methods of farming specifically focusing on productivity, simplicity, and empirical evidence
You could theoretically use this organizational structure to examine two items within the same category for almost any subject.
Purpose of a Compare and Contrast Essay
The purpose of a compare and contrast essay is to point out all the similarities and all differences between two nouns, ideas, et cetera. Considering two ideas fully can naturally transition into an ability to argue for or against a position or stance.
In debate, for example, comparing and contrasting is a critical skill as you must be able to examine the topic from both angles. Obviously, you need to make a case for your own side of the debate, however it is critical you see the other side’s point of view as well. Otherwise, you will find yourself completely unprepared for their arguments. Therefore, comparing the benefits, ideological underpinnings and rhetorical styles that best match both sides of an issue is an excellent lifelong skill.
In literature, you will benefit from the ability to compare two books for themes, writing style, word choice, characterization, and more. Doing so helps you become a better writer yourself, as well as understand the complexity of the human condition.
Knowing how to develop a solid argument, moreover, helps you:
- Deepen your critical thinking skills
- Develop eloquence in your speaking and writing
- Practice using skills such as outlining and reading for clues
- Explore how context changes meaning
Now let’s explore exactly how to write one, step by step.
How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay
You will complete your compare and contrast essay in three main stages: researching, writing and proofreading. While this might sound like an overly formal approach, it is effective because it allows you to organize your main points ahead of time, using any visual aid you might need to see the similarities and differences.
Once you’ve laid out your points of comparison, you can group them according to likeness. There are two methods for this we will discuss: the alternating method and the block method. These will allow you to craft your main thesis and insert appropriate transitions where needed. Then you’ll add an introduction and conclusion to round out the paper before moving on to proofreading.
Make sure you spend enough time on the research phase. It is tempting to skip over this part and launch into the writing, bypassing the less-exciting step of examining your sources thoroughly. However, this is a good way to miss important points that might reinforce or work against your argument.
Step 1: Conduct Initial Research
Your initial research should answer questions such as:
- What sources will I use (if given a choice by my teacher or professor)? Do I need additional sources to support or strengthen the research from my first ones? Do I have enough information to write the paper?
- Do my subjects have enough in common that comparing and contrasting them will be useful? Apples and oranges might be different, but they are at least both types of fruit; apples and cats aren’t a very useful comparison at all.
- Has anyone else compared these two subjects before? Should I take a look at their work to see what to do/not to do?
Step 2: List Out Similarities & Differences
Next, it’s time to list out what is similar and what is different between your two items. Let’s say you are contrasting two books from the 1800s. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley are both early examples of science fiction, so they make a good pair.
Start by using a Venn diagram, chart, or another visual tool to make a side by side comparison. You might include setting, plot, characters, year written and year set, mood, themes, tone and appearances throughout later pop culture. Make sure your points of comparison are grouped together so you’re not searching for the corollaries later.
Step 3: Develop a Thesis Statement
Once you have rough compare and contrast sentences written out, you can then craft a topic sentence. This is also known as a thesis or thesis statement, in which you lay out the main argument you will make.
For instance, you might write “While The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley both use elements of speculative fiction and folklore differently, they speak to the same innate fear that our humanity is a fragile thing.” This shows the reader that you are going to share both the differences (the main writing elements) and similarities (themes) in the paragraphs to come.
Having established the case you will make, it is time to turn those rough points and thesis sentences into a fully fleshed-out paper. Let’s move on to the writing.
Step 4: Create an Outline
Armed with your main points, you should now elevate your rough content into an outline. There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay; the alternating method and the block method.
- Alternating Method: In this method, you alternate between one item and another, back and forth. So in our example, you would first tackle the setting of both books, comparing and contrasting. Next, are the characters, with similarities and differences as well. Work your way down the list, speaking about both subjects in turn. This will buffer your argument throughout.
- Block Method: With this approach, you instead tackle all aspects of one topic in a block, then the other, subject by subject. That means you would address how Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde uses the setting, characters, time period, and so forth completely. Then you move on to do the same with Frankenstein. In the second block, it makes sense to call out the first book repeatedly, but you will save the main thrust of your argument for the conclusion.
Either approach allows you to create a rough outline of your main points, with additional brainstorming when needed. Afterwards, you can begin with the actual fleshing out of the paper.
Step 5: Write the Introduction
Once you have a thesis statement and an essay outline, the actual essay writing becomes much simpler. Start with the introduction, and plan to have the thesis you created at the end of the intro paragraph(s). Lead up to that statement with a brief description of both items you’re comparing (in this case, the two novels), including pertinent subject matter information such as the author, writing periods, and overarching themes.
Step 6: Write the Body Paragraphs
The most important component of your essay structure is the body paragraphs, and standard essay form asks for three paragraphs. If your essay is longer, instead of using a single paragraph for the first subject, second subject and so on, you might use a whole section. Either way, you will use the first body paragraph as a compare and contrast in the alternating method, or a thorough treatment of the first subject overall. Then, you will address the second subject, and so forth.
Step 7: Write the Conclusion
The conclusion should wrap up your essay overall, driving home the main point of your thesis. Be sure to restate it, not verbatim, but quite closely near the top of your concluding paragraph.
Next, it’s time to make sure you don’t have any outstanding errors or plagiarism that might ruin your grade. Always proofread a paper before turning it in to ensure you are submitting your best work.
Step 8: Check for Spelling & Grammar
First, use a spellchecker to catch errors. Most word processing software offers this tool for spelling and grammar. If you take this approach, make sure it is set correctly to your language and dialect, or mistakes will slip through. Alternatively, you can use an online service, which will help take your writing to the next level.
Step 9: Check for Citation Errors
While most students are honorable and do their own work, it is possible to get caught accidentally plagiarizing simply because you do not know the proper citation rules. For instance, you need to source every quote from a novel, even if you are using the same novel repeatedly and have already cited it in your paper. Sadly, even unintentional plagiarism can lead to serious academic and career consequences, so you must be vigilant.
Luckily, that won’t happen if you use a plagiarism checker like Quetext. Not only does it identify where sources are needed, but it will also help you catch instances of similar wording, which might also require a source citation. Overall, it allows you to:
- Verify your writing for originality so you don’t get caught for plagiarism, even while summarizing or paraphrasing
- Flag content in need of citations
- Add in-text MLA/APA/Chicago-style citations where needed
- Create MLA/APA/Chicago Style citations for references page
Understanding the meaning, purpose and benefits of a compare and contrast essay will enable you to tackle them more effectively from now on. This is especially true if you use the nine steps listed above, which will earn you points in both high school and college courses. That is, if you properly check that you have not plagiarized from any of your sources.
Using a plagiarism checker will benefit you not only in academic settings, but also in all instances of future writing. Even unintentional plagiarism can lead to severe negative consequences regardless of your profession or standing. Plagiarism checkers provide a simple way to ensure you have properly cited and paraphrased all your writing, and give you peace of mind before submitting any work.