What Is A Compare And Contrast Essay?

You are going to be asked to write a compare and contrast essay at some point during your academic life. If you have, then you know how daunting a task it sometimes proves to be. Writing compare and contrast essays can get you sweating if you have no idea how to go about them.

So, What Exactly Are They?

Compare and contrast essays are writings that discuss the similarities and differences between two or more items, ideas, or even texts. These essays go beyond the surface comparisons. They go to great lengths to discuss, demonstrate and elaborate the similarities and differences. When asked to write such an essay, you should aim to bring out your points in an eloquent manner. You should also explain why you think the comparison is significant and relevant.

Sounds difficult, right? No worries, it is much easier than it may seem. Here are some steps to be followed when writing a compare and contrast essay.

  • Pick out items to compare and contrast

Most of the times this will be done for you by your tutor or instructor. However, there are rare occasions when you may be tasked with choosing two items to compare and contrast. Below are some few ground rules that you will need to adhere to when selecting the terms to compare and contrast.

  • There must be a relationship between the items chosen

For you to compare and contrast items, there has to be a relationship between the two items you have selected. The connection must be evident and apparent. An example of related topics is the railway and road, which share transportation as the main aspect. For there to be a comparison discussion, you must actively establish this relationship. The reader must instantly relate to the common denominator underlying the comparison.

  • The items must not be identical

For a pair of items to make good candidates for comparison and contrast, they must have some differences. The differences must be substantial enough to inspire an argument regarding their similarity and differences. You should not take items that are mirror images of each other. That will limit your essay to the comparison.

The items chosen should have a substantial number of similarities and differences. Eventually one must outweigh the other, but there should be a reasonable argument before a verdict is reached.

  • Research on the items subject to comparison

Once you have your topic, you should set out to research on the individual items. For a compare and contrast essay, you will require an in-depth knowledge of both sides of the divide. This can be acquired through extensive reading and research. Both items should be researched in detail without favoring one over the other. As you carry out your research, make a list of the major points under each item. Make sure you also note down your sources. You might be asked to quote them in your essay.

  • List down the similarities and differences

After extensive research, take out both lists containing the significant points. Place the lists side by side and go through them once again. As you scan through your lists, strike of the points that are similar as you transfer them to a different list of similarities. Once you have stricken off all the related points, move on to the remaining points. Scrutinize them one by one as you look for an opposing point on the other item’s list. If you find one, strike both off as you transfer that point as a difference.

  • Create categories

As you split cross of points from your list as either similarities or differences, you will notice that some points do not quite fit as a similarity or a variation. Such points need to be categorized. For example, when comparing cats to dogs, you might have categories such as height, weight, lifespan, behavior among others. As you may notice, these items might not be the direct opposite of each other with regards to these categories. Once you establish the categories, you can easily tease out the similarities and differences.

  • Compare and contrast items in the same category

When it comes to writing the essay, be sure to put across points that relate. Never compare and distinguish items from different categories. Using the same example of cats and dogs, be sure to compare the weight of the dogs with the weight of the cats. Never compare the weight of the dog and the height of the cat.

  • Master the transitional words

When comparing and contrasting, some words signal to the reader that whatever point you are going to mention next is either similar or different from the ones you mentioned earlier. This might seem easy, but it is astonishing to find out that many people have difficulties using appropriate transitional words.

Words used to bring out a similarity include: likewise, just like, similarly, also, both, to be like, to be the same as, and many others

Words used to bring out conflicting statements include; however, in comparison, while, whereas, to differ, different from, in contrast to, on the other hand, and many more.

Structure of a Compare and Contrast Essay

A compare and contrast essay has the same basic outlay like the other essays. It must have a title, an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

  • The introduction

The introduction of the essay must contain the thesis of your essay. Much as the thesis statement should be a straightforward statement regarding items being compared, this statement should be carefully crafted wittily and attractively. There is an overall tendency for writers to write a plain, straightforward thesis like; this thesis will compare and contrast oranges and mangoes. There is utterly nothing wrong with that kind of thesis, only that it is plain and lacks appeal. Craft something appealing, hook your readers with words and make them crave for more and more of your words. As part of your thesis, you need to declare your opinion on their similarity or difference. The discussion in the article’s body will then elaborate the reasons for your opinion.

  • Body

The body is the mainstay of the compare and contrast essays. This is where all the detail is placed regarding the various similarities and differences of the items involved. All the laid out points are discussed at lengths in this part of the essay. The body encompasses typically around four paragraphs. The differences and similarities are spread out in these paragraphs depending on the approach you choose for your essay.

There are two primary body structures;

  • Block method

In this structure, the points are discussed per item without crossing back and forth. Using the same example of cats and dogs with the block approach, you will address the aspects of dogs, every detail within the first three paragraphs. These will be followed by a transitional statement ushering in the points regarding cats. The choice of transitional words, in this case, will be dictated by whether you think they are similar or not. If you are of the opinion that they share similarities, then you can use comparing transitional signals. Contrasting transitional words are used when the points expressed defer.

When discussing the second item, references should be made to the first item each time stating whether the point is similar to the former or not. This helps keep the reader engaged ensures continuity of the essay.

The block method does not enjoy much following compared to the alternating way. This is because this method mentions all the points of one item before discussing all the aspects of the other item. Without constant reference to the points mentioned in the first item, it might be difficult to establish apparent similarities and differences. The block method, however, has its sparks. Individuals prefer using it when the items compared lack clear differences and similarities. This way, the writer may exploit the structure of the block method to generalize the points without identifying where exactly the differences or similarities are.

  • The alternating method

An alternating method is a categorical approach to the comparison. In this method, the writer categorically discusses points. The writer starts by discussing a point about item A then shifts to item B and addresses the aspects under the same category.

This method is preferred because of its systematic approach to discussion. It is easy to follow the similarities and differences made because the comparisons are made immediately after each point. It is also argued that this method provides a more comprehensive discussion.

The alternating method comes in handy when the similar and the different points are clear and well laid out.

  • Conclusion

As you wrap up your ideas in the conclusion paragraph, it is important to restate your thesis just to remind your readers on your stand. At this point, you will not add any new points. Summarize the ones you have already mentioned, and justify your thesis. Use the points discussed in the body to bring out your argument and convince your readers


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