Step-by-step guide to writing a great compare and contrast essay.

4 Jun

A compare and contrast essay examines two or more topics (objects, people, or ideas, for example), comparing their similarities and contrasting their differences.
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Simply put, it is an essay evaluating the similarities and differences between two subjects. These subjects will be in the same category, but different. You might compare and contrast two different kinds of pets, or two novels from the same historical time period.

By assigning such essays, your instructors are encouraging you to make connections between texts or ideas, engage in critical thinking, and go beyond mere description or summary to generate interesting analysis: when you reflect on similarities and differences, you gain a deeper understanding of the items you are comparing, their relationship to each other, and what is most important about them.

Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a great compare and contrast essay.

1 – Choose Your Subject
Remember that your two subjects must be different, but still in the same ballpark, to create a meaningful compare-and-contrast essay. 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 – Brainstorm Similarities and Differences
Making a Venn diagram or a chart can help you quickly and efficiently compare and contrast two or more things or ideas. To make a Venn diagram, simply draw some overlapping circles, one circle for each item you’re considering. In the central area where they overlap, list the traits the two items have in common. Assign each one of the areas that doesn’t overlap; in those areas, you can list the traits that make the things different.
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All you have to do is glance at your Venn diagram to get a sense of the things that you could write about. If you prefer to focus on one subject at a time, jot your lists down on a blank sheet of paper and flip it over to the other side for the other subject.

3 – Organizing
There are many possibilities for structuring a compare-and-contrast essay. You could write about one subject in detail, and then switch to the other.

Let’s say you are comparing and contrasting women and men. You could write two paragraphs about qualities that are common to women (they tend to be more compassionate, they are good multitaskers) along with some that they share with men (they are capable of sacrificing self for the good of others.) Then you would focus on men in the next section. (Men usually have superior physical strength and technical skills).

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.

4 – Write an Outline
Craft an outline that fits the structure you have chosen. Traditionally, an essay consists of an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Consider including four body paragraphs instead to give balance to your two subjects.

5 – Thesis
The thesis of your comparison/contrast paper is very important: it can help you create a focused argument and give your reader a road map so she/he doesn’t get lost in the sea of points you are about to make.

6 – Signal words
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.

7 – Fill in Supporting Evidence

As you begin to write your essay, back up your assertions with evidence from research, reading, or personal experience. If you are comparing and contrasting cats and dogs, use personal anecdotes about friends and their pets to bolster your arguments.
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There are no hard and fast rules about organizing a comparison/contrast paper, of course. Just be sure that your reader can easily tell what’s going on! Be aware, too, of the placement of your different points. If you are writing a comparison/contrast in service of an argument, keep in mind that the last point you make is the one you are leaving your reader with.

8 – Proofread and Revise Carefully

Once you have finished, read your essay several times to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Make use of spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program. If possible, get a friend to cast a fresh pair of eyes on it to find mistakes you might have missed. We often have difficulty reading our own work objectively and can miss silly mistakes.