Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
GET A FREE SAMPLE
Like the website? Try the book. Enter your email to receive a free sample from the recently published title, EAP Foundation: Academic Presentations.
Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
You need to login to view the exercises. If you do not already have an account, you can register for free.
How to Write an A+ Comparison Essay on any Topic
What is a Comparison Essay?
A comparison essay (or a Compare and Contrast essay) is a commonly used type of writing assignment in various classes of high school and college, from art to science. In a comparison essay you should critically analyze any two subjects, finding and pointing out their similarities and/or differences.
Depending on your assignment, such essays can be comparative only (looking only at similarities), contrasting only (pointing out the differences) or both comparative and contrasting.
Choosing a Topic for Comparison Essay
In order to write a good essay, first you need to have a good topic for it, i.e. a topic that lets you easily demonstrate your writing skills and get a high grade easily.
What does that mean specifically regarding the comparison essay? Very simple: the subjects must be easy comparable, so you don’t need to work too hard to point out their similarities or differences. For example:
A big college campus and a small college campus
World War I and World War II
Two perspectives on the same place: morning and night
William Shakespeare with William Wordsworth
Windows vs. Linux
Using the following links, you can find a lot of good comparison topics for your essay:
100 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics
50 Compare and Contrast Topics
List of Compare and Contrast Essay Topics
Comparison Essay Structure
Considering the right structure for your essay is one of the key points of success. Sticking to a recommended essay structure is the only way to properly outline and write it, paragraph by paragraph from the introduction to conclusion, without mistakes.
There are two recommended patterns for a comparison essay: point-by-point (or "alternating") pattern and subject-by-subject (or "block") pattern.
Alternating pattern is also known as "point-by-point comparison". This mode of comparison will result in your essay having 5 paragraphs. Alternating pattern is also known as "point-by-point comparison". This mode of comparison will result in your essay having 5 paragraphs.
In it, you will need to consecutively compare and contrast each of the similarities and differences in the given subjects:
- In the introduction you state your thesis.
- Then you discuss both of your subjects together for each point of comparison and contrast.
- In the conclusion you restate the thesis and shortly summarize your essay.
Block pattern is also known as "subject-by-subject comparison". According to this pattern, you will be required to separate the body of your compare and contrast essay in two parts.
The first part of the body will be dedicated to the first subject, while the other half will be centered around the second subject:
- In the introduction you state your thesis.
- First you discuss the first subject.
- Then you discuss the second subject.
- In the conclusion you restate the thesis and shortly summarize your essay.
Writing an A+ Comparison Essay
The introduction of an essay is very important. It gives the reader his/her first impression of the comparison essay’s text. Remember: first impression counts!
Grab the reader’s attention
There are a lot of tips and techniques to help you in capturing a reader’s interest. You can find some pretty good information in the following articles:
How to Grab the Reader's Attention
A Proper Introduction
The most common five methods to grab your reader's attention, commonly used by professionals, are the following:
- Give a brief historical review of your topic for help reader to better understand it
- Start from a little story or an anecdote, which leads the reader into your topic
- Try to use a surprising statement – something disgusting, joyful or even shocking
- "Dropping" the name of a well-known person (celebrity) usually gets the reader's attention
- State straight out what your essay is going to be about, simply and clearly
Start from a short background
High school students often find it difficult to view their teachers as anything but "the enemy." However, after the first few months of a school year, students learn to appreciate their teachers as individuals with different approaches. Some teachers are "cool," while others are "tough."
State the thesis
Although Sally Strict & Larry Lax are both respected teachers at our school, their teaching styles and expectations for students differ significantly. While Ms. Strict maintains a highly structured classroom atmosphere to keep her pupils disciplined and motivated, Mr. Lax downplays structure in order to allow his students to push themselves.
State the point
Finally, Ms. Strict enforces high standards for her students' written work.
Provide supporting details
She collects homework every day at the beginning of class; to turn it in five minutes late is to turn it in a whole day late. Every piece of writing, whether it is a journal entry or a formal essay, must be typed and stapled. Last but not least, all homework must display a sophisticated level of thinking and writing.
Use appropriate transitions
Transitions are important in comparison / contrast writing to avoid confusion. Without transitions, the points you are comparing / contrasting may blur into one another. Also, a variety of transitions prevent monotony.
Like, compared to, similar to, similarly, by analogy, likewise, in the same way, as well, both, too
Unlike, conversely, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, still, although, while, but, even though, although, despite, yet, regardless, on the one hand … one the other hand
The conclusion of a comparison essay is just as important as the introduction. The conclusion seals the comparison essay and tries to close the issue. Conclusion is the last part of the essay that your reader will experience.
Summarize the similarities and / or difference of the subjects
Thus, Ms. Strict and Mr. Lax both accomplish their goals of motivating their students to do excellent work, though they do so in very different ways: while Ms. Strict emphasizes the high standards she expects everyone can meet, Mr. Lax uses a more personal approach.
Emphasize the thesis and say why this topic is important
Their success demonstrates the importance of diversity in a school community: different students respond to different teaching styles. So rather than viewing their instructors as a monolithic "enemy" intent on making them suffer, students should recognize how they benefit from the variety of ways their teachers inspire them.
Finalizing your Work
Pay attention that even though your essay is fully written, it still isn’t ready to submission.
There are some common and annoying mistakes which may significantly harm your grade. However, you can avoid those grade lowering mistakes by completing the following checklist:
- Check spelling and grammar
- Ensure that your essay is fully compliant with the required formatting standard
- Properly organize all the citations and the References / Works Cited page
- Ensure that your title page is done as required
- Take a final look at your paper to be certain that everything is indeed fine