Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2018

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

JBirdwellBranson

We compare and contrast things all the time. Do we want this camera or that one? Should we get a dog or a cat (or maybe both)? Do we want to major in English or Biochemistry? Do we want pizza or tacos for dinner? You get the idea.

When your teacher assigns you a compare and contrast essay, essentially what he or she wants you to learn is how to be presented with two different ideas, to evaluate them, and to determine what they have in common, what they don't have in common, and how the ideas work together (or don't). Being able to compare two different ideas and to evaluate them in a research-based way will serve you well in the future because we tend to compare stuff a lot in everyday life.

Although the style and structure of a compare and contrast essay is a bit different from your standard research paper or argumentative essay, it still uses the same concepts for a common goal: to organize your thoughts and research onto the page in a way that the reader will understand and, hopefully, to provide some new insight.

The structure of the paper will be somewhat the same as a typical essay. For example, you will still need to have a thesis statement, but your body paragraphs will be just a little different from, say, an expository essay. Because you're looking at two different subjects and how they are different (or similar), you will need to use an organizational structure to effectively compare and contrast. There are two ways to do this: You can use either the block method (which means that you are writing subject by subject in the paragraphs) or the point by point method (which means that the paragraphs will be organized around different points you're trying to make about the two different subjects).

Last, you will still need a conclusion. The conclusion will still be a summary of your main subjects, but the conclusion will be an evaluation of what we learned by examining these two different subjects. Which is better? Which is worse? Why did we even compare these two things?

Now that we know what components are in a compare and contrast essay, let's see how this might work in both the block method and the point by point method by looking at some sample outlines.

The block method

In a compare and contrast essay, the block method is one where you discuss everything about one topic at a time. This method might be preferable if you have a really in-depth discussion of a subject and you think it might be too confusing for the reader to keep going back and forth between the two subjects.

For example, let's say that you are writing a paper on the differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here's what that might look like using the block method.

  1. Introduction
    1. A brief introduction to the topic When you are thinking about making a trip to California, you may be torn between visiting Los Angeles or San Francisco. They may both be large cities in California, but they couldn't have more different vibes or different types of activities to do while you're visiting.
    2. Your thesis statement While Los Angeles certainly has a lot to offer, San Francisco has an old-world charm that can't be replicated and should be the choice of travelers considering a visit to the Golden State.
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. Topic sentence about Subject A From picture-perfect scenery like the Golden Gate Bridge to historic districts like Haight Ashbury to fun activities like the California Academy of Sciences, it's unlikely that you'll ever have a dull moment in San Francisco.
      1. Claim 1 about Subject A Here we would say something about how beautiful San Francisco is and how there are several opportunities for outdoor activities, and then mention how nothing can really top seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in person.
      2. Claim 2 about Subject A On this claim, we would probably write in-depth about the history of San Francisco and how districts like Haight Ashbury have a true significance in not just California, but the whole country.
      3. Claim 3 about Subject A On this final claim for Subject A, we would write about how fun San Francisco is. We would mention the California Academy of Sciences and how it's basically several museums rolled into one. We would also probably mention Musée Mécanique, which is located right in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf and is filled with early 20th century coin-operated games. At the end of claim 3, we would also want to have a transition sentence so that it doesn't look awkward when we immediately start talking about Los Angeles in the Subject B paragraph(s).
    2. Topic sentence about Subject B Los Angeles has plenty to do in entertainment and has many wonderful restaurants, but it just doesn't have the same charm as San Francisco and it is much more difficult to get around.
      1. Claim 1 about Subject B On this first claim about Subject B, we would probably list all of the merits of visiting Los Angeles. We would mention all of the theme parks like Universal Studios, Disneyland, and the Santa Monica Pier. We would mention how Los Angeles is typically warm and sunny, which makes it fun to go to the beach there during the summers. We would also mention Los Angeles' fabulous restaurants in Koreatown and in Venice Beach.
      2. Claim 2 about Subject B On this second claim about Subject B, we would talk about how many visitors want to visit Hollywood when they're in Los Angeles, but often they don't realize how difficult it is to park there and how it's grittier than what you would expect.
      3. Claim 3 about Subject B On this last claim about Subject B, we would discuss just how difficult it is to get around Los Angeles. Though public transportation is available, it still has a long way to go and it's almost a necessity to rent a car when you're in town. Plus, the traffic can get pretty bad on the 405. At the end of claim 3, we would want to put a transition sentence so that we can get into the comparison paragraph without its sounding too weird.
    3. Topic sentence that connects Subject A and Subject B Although clearly both San Francisco and Los Angeles have their merits for visiting, if you have to make a choice the answer is clearly San Francisco.
      1. What is similar between these two subjects? Here we would probably write something about how both cities are institutions in the state of California and that you'll likely have a good time in both places.
      2. What is dissimilar? On this point, we would probably write about how Northern California and Southern California have two completely different vibes and that, ultimately, San Francisco has more cultural, historical, and fun things to do than Los Angeles does.
  3. Conclusion
    1. What conclusions can we draw from comparing these two subjects? Here we would say something about why it's important to make sure you carefully consider where you want to go on vacation, and make sure it's the right place for you because you want to guarantee a fun time if you'll be paying money to visit somewhere. Clearly San Francisco would be the better end of the deal because we would have so much fun stuff to do without all the stress of driving everywhere. We would have more time to explore the city.
    2. Any further research required or suggested for the future? Here we might say something about how you should always compare places when you are thinking about going on vacation.
    3. Is there a third thing that we should be comparing these two subjects to? We could briefly mention how there are a lot of other fun cities to go to in California like San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, etc.

The point by point method

The point by point method of writing a compare and contrast essay is a way to discuss the contrasting differences between your two points throughout your paper. This keeps the comparison fresh in the reader's mind, which might be preferable with some subjects over others.

Let's see what that might look like using our San Francisco vs. Los Angeles topic.

  1. Introduction
    1. A brief introduction to the topic (This would be similar to the block method.) When you are thinking about making a trip to California, you may be torn between visiting Los Angeles or San Francisco. They may both be large cities in California, but they couldn't have more different vibes or different types of activities to do while you're visiting.
    2. Your thesis statement (This also would be similar to the block method.) While Los Angeles certainly has a lot to offer, San Francisco has an old-world charm that can't be replicated, and it should be the choice of travelers who are considering a visit to the Golden State.
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. First Difference between Subject A and Subject B When thinking about taking a vacation to California, it's important to think about what kind of transportation you'll need.
      1. Detail 1 Here we would say something about how San Francisco has much more public transportation than Los Angeles does.
      2. Detail 2 Here we would mention how bad the traffic is in Los Angeles and how you can avoid that in San Francisco because of more walkability there.
    2. Second Difference between Subject A and Subject B San Francisco generally has more charm than Los Angeles.
      1. Detail 1 Here we would write in-depth about the history of San Francisco and how districts like Haight Ashbury have a true significance in not just California, but the whole country.
      2. Detail 2 Here we would talk about how many tourists want to visit Hollywood when they're in Los Angeles, but often they don't realize how difficult it is to park there and how it's grittier than what you would expect.
    3. Third Difference between Subject A and Subject B There are more fun things to do within a smaller area in San Francisco.
      1. Detail 1 We would write about how many fun things there are to do in San Francisco. We would mention the California Academy of Sciences and how it's basically several museums rolled into one. We would also probably mention Musée Mécanique, which is located right in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf and is filled with early 20th century coin-operated games.
      2. Detail 2 Here we would list all the fun things to do in Los Angeles like Venice Beach, Universal Studios, and Santa Monica Pier, but talk about how spread out all that is.
  3. Conclusion (This would essentially be the same as the block method.)
    1. What conclusions can we draw from comparing these two subjects? Here we would say something about why it's important to make sure you carefully consider where you want to go on vacation, and make sure it's the right place for you because you want to guarantee a fun time if you'll be paying money to visit somewhere. Clearly San Francisco would be the better end of the deal because we would get so much fun stuff to do without all the stress of driving everywhere. We would get more time to explore the city.
    2. Any further research required or suggested for the future? Here we might say something about how you should always compare places when you are thinking about going on vacation.
    3. Is there a third thing that we should be comparing these two subjects to? We could briefly mention how there are a lot of other fun cities to go to in California such as San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, etc.

Still have questions?

If you're still confused about how you would write a compare and contrast essay, be sure to speak with your teacher for additional instructions and advice. Have you written a compare and contrast essay and are unsure if you're following instructions or if it's grammatically correct? It's always important to have someone look over your paper like a parent, tutor, or friend, or to seek out the assistance of a professional editor. Having someone look over your paper will ensure that everything makes sense and can help you with revisions.

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