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Features Of Compare And Contrast Essay

What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

Unlike other types of essays (see top 10 essay types), a compare and contrast essay is used to explore both the similarities and the differences between two subjects by comparing and/or contrasting them against each other.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

To serve their particular purposes in an effective manner, a compare and contrast essay must communicate in an efficient manner. This means that compare and contrast essays should start with an opening paragraph, which will directly state what the writer is trying to say. Afterward, they can move onto the body, which will support the opening paragraph by providing supporting evidence. Once the supporting evidence has been listed, compare and contrast essays can conclude by reemphasizing their opening paragraphs in order to produce a lasting impression on the mind of the reader.

Comparative Analysis

With that said, a compare and contrast essay cannot be completed without conducting a comparative analysis, which the writer can use to lay out their thoughts about the subjects before sorting them into a neat and organized form. Fortunately, this process is as simple as creating a Venn diagram (see below) before filling it with the characteristics of the subjects, while making sure to put shared characteristics in the overlapping area. Once the writer is satisfied with their brainstorming, they can sort through the characteristics for the ones with the most relevance to the point that they are trying to make, which is important because weaker arguments can actually drag down their stronger counterparts when placed in the same essay.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Pre-Writing Phase

How to start a compare and contrast essay? Students are normally assigned a topic to write on, yet sometimes professors give their students the freedom of selecting the topic on their own. In the latter case choosing one out of top compare and contrast essay topics can become a challenge. While working on the topic selection it is important not to choose two totally unrelated subjects, otherwise finding similarities can get problematic. Start out with a subject that has some basic similarities, e.g. two novels, two paintings, speeches etc.


Looking for the things to compare and contrast? Here is a list of top 30 compare contrast essay topics:

TOP 30 COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY TOPICS


Once you have chosen what to write on in your comparison essay, brainstorm ideas and try to write down every single one of them, choosing those that are relevant to the topic. You might want to divide your sheet of paper into two main sections and start jotting down everything that comes to your mind, including similarities and differences.

Writing Phase - Venn Diagram

An effective technique for finding similarities and differences is using a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a scheme that represents logical relations between two objects. Graphically it can be depicted as two overlapping circles, each of the circles denoting some entity. The overlapping part is the area denoting similarities, while the parts that do not overlap, are the differences (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Venn Diagram: Comparing Apples and Oranges (Compare and Contrast Essay)

A very important point in writing an effective compare and contrast essay is a correct selection of the lines of comparison: if you are comparing two objects, you should be comparing them against one and the same parameter. For example, looking at the picture above you will see that oranges and apples are compared in regards to things like origin, place of growth, a thickness of peel etc. All of these features are inherent in both objects. If you say that an apple is different from an orange because an apple is green and the orange is juicy, you will be “comparing apples and oranges” – this time in the figurative meaning of "likening two incomparable things".

Organization: Typical Structure of a Compare and Contrast Essay

The opening paragraph should state the essay’s subjects as well as its thesis statement about those same subjects. From that point on, the body of a compare and contrast essay tends to be structured in one of two ways:

The first way: a writer can list the characteristics of one subject and then the characteristics of the other before bringing them together by analyzing their similarities and differences. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about one subject, continue with a similar number of paragraphs about the other subject, and then finish with a crucial paragraph that will use the listed characteristics to compare and contrast the two subjects.

The second way: a writer can list the similarities between the subjects and then the differences between the same. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about their similarities and finish with a number of paragraphs about their differences. With this structure, there is no need for an analysis at the end because its content is spread throughout the preceding paragraphs.

  1. Introduction
  2. Origin
  3. Climate
  4. Peel
  5. Conclusion

Another mode of organization, although less common, is called block 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 Object A, while the other half will be centered around Object B. Together with the introduction and the conclusion, the overall essay length will be 4 paragraphs. In case of block comparison the overall essay structure will take the following form:

  1. Introduction
  2. Oranges
  3. Apples
  4. Conclusion

Once the body of the essay is complete, its conclusion should restate the thesis statement but in a more confident manner because it has proven its point. Sometimes, a conclusion will summarize the preceding paragraphs for a bolder and blunter emphasis, while other times, a conclusion will let them provide their support in a more implicit manner.


HOW TO WRITE A COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY


Additional Tips on Comparison and Contrast Essay Writing

Fig. 2. Comparison and Contrast Signifiers

Compare and Contrast Words

An important thing about writing any essay is using special cue words that will make your essay more coherent and logical. In the case of a compare and contrast essay you will need to use cue words signifying comparison, for example:

Words to compare: like, compared to, similar to, similarly, by analogy, likewise, in the same way, as well as, both, too, at the same time, correspondingly, in addition, same as, etc.

The cue words signaling contrast are:

Words to contrast: unlike, conversely, however, nevertheless, still, although, while, but, even though, although, despite, yet, regardless, on the one hand … one the other hand, etc.

Post-Writing Phase

Once the first draft of an essay is complete, it is time for the writer to put the finishing touches:

Proofreading

Proofreading is a key factor because errors can break the reader from the flow of the essay, thus robbing it of its power to persuade. Writers should always read through their own work to check for typos, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, as well as lines that should be rephrased for a better result. However, they should also get other people to proofread for them because their closeness to their writing can make it hard for them to pick up on its problems. After all, they already know what they are trying to say, meaning that they are not looking at their work with the same perspective as the reader.

References

References are a useful way to increase an essay’s power to persuade so long as they are appropriately authoritative. For example, referencing a politician is probably not going to be much use in a philosophy essay unless it is in the context of their philosophical writings. Furthermore, references are needed to use someone else’s arguments without taking credit for them in the process, which is necessary to prevent plagiarism. Not coincidentally, this also makes it easy for the reader to check the sources so that they will know, that somebody really said so if the reader is skeptical. Finally, references should be done in the style that is appropriate for the essay’s subjects for the convenience of different people in different fields. For example, most essays about the sciences should use APA, while most essays about the humanities should use MLA since those are the conventions.

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TIP Sheet
WRITING A COMPARE/CONTRAST PAPER

A compare and contrast essay examines two or more topics (objects, people, or ideas, for example), comparing their similarities and contrasting their differences. You may choose to focus exclusively on comparing, exclusively on contrasting, or on both-or your instructor may direct you to do one or both.

First, pick useable subjects and list their characteristics. In fact, their individual characteristics determine whether the subjects are useable. After that, choose a parallel pattern of organization and effective transitions to set your paper above the merely average.

1. Picking a subject
Focus on things that can obviously be compared or contrasted. For instance, if you are examining an idea (political or philosophical) examine the opposite of that idea. Or, if you are examining a person, like a president, pick another president for comparison or contrast. Don't try to compare a president and a cab driver, or existentialism and a legislative bill on car tax refunds.

2. Listing characteristics
Divide a piece of paper into two sides. One side is for the first subject, the other for the second subject. Then, begin to list the similarities and differences that immediately come to mind. Concentrate on characteristics that either are shared or are opposing between the two subjects. Alternately, you may construct a Venn diagram of intersecting circles, listing the subjects' differences to either side and their similarities where the circles intersect. Keep in mind that for a balanced paper, you want to make point-by-point, parallel comparisons (or contrasts).

Similarities between my math and English instructors:
Both are welcoming and available to students.
Both are organized and keep a neat office.
Both are knowledgeable and professional.

 

Differences between my math and English instructors
Math teacher listens to classic rock.         English teacher listens to jazz.
Math teacher drinks Earl Grey tea.           English teacher drinks strong black coffee.
Math teacher likes to chat about movies.  English teacher sticks to business.

As you create your list, is it clear why you are comparing and contrasting these two subjects? Do you have a preference for one or the other? If so, make sure you are evaluating each side fairly. A point-by-point list helps you maintain balance.

Once you have a list, decide whether there are more similarities or differences between the topics. If there are more similarities, concentrate your paper on comparing. If there are more differences (or if, as in the example above, the differences are simply more interesting), concentrate on contrasting. If there is a balance of similarities and differences, you might concentrate on discussing this balance.

3. Organizing
There are at least two ways to organize a compare/contrast essay. Imagine you are examining Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, both Civil War generals. In your list you have uncovered important points of dissimilarity between them. Those points are their background, personalities, and underlying aspirations. (Call these three points A, B, and C.) You have decided to contrast the two subjects.

Here is one way to organize the body of this paper, addressing points A, B, and C for each subject. This paper will follow parallel order–A, B, and then C–for each subject:

A. Lee's background
B. Lee's personality
C. Lee's underlying aspirations

A. Grant's background
B. Grant's personality
C. Grant's underlying aspirations

However, here is another way to organize the same paper:

A. Lee's background
A. Grant's background

B. Lee's personality
B. Grant's personality

C. Lee's underlying aspiration
C. Grant's underlying aspiration

For a shorter paper, the above might represent three paragraphs; if you are writing a long paper and have a great deal of information, you may choose to write about each point, A, B, and C, in separate paragraphs for a total of six. However you decide to organize, make sure it is clear why you are examining this subject. You might be able to compare apples and oranges, for example, but why would you? Include any insights or opinions you have gathered. And yes, in general, three is the magic number. While there is no hard-and-fast rule that precludes creating a paper based on two points, or four, or five, a three-point discussion is manageable, especially for complex or abstract subjects. At the same time, a three-point structure helps you avoid oversimplifying, especially when addressing controversial topics in which discussions tend to become polarized–right or wrong, black or white, for or against. Three-point treatments encourage discussion of the middle ground.

4. Signaling transitions
Learn to use expressions that precisely convey contrast or comparison. These expressions, or transitions, signal contrast:

  • on the contrary
  • on the other hand
  • however
  • otherwise
  • whereas
  • still
  • yet

These expressions signal comparison:

  • as well as
  • both
  • like
  • in common with
  • likewise
  • also

Signal words such as these help the reader understand the relationships between your sentences, paragraphs, and ideas. In particular, if you are both comparing and contrasting, signal words help sort out what's what. Second only to effective organization, effective use of these expressions will go a long way toward helping produce a good compare/contrast paper.

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