Have you been asked to write a compare and contrast essay? You are not alone. Every year, thousands of students are asked to write compare and contrast essays for their classes in junior high school, high school, and college. Compare and contrast essays are commonly assigned to students in English composition classes, too. If you are learning English, you may also be asked to write a compare and contrast essay. A compare and contrast essay is one of the most important and common writing exercises you will ever encounter.

This article will introduce you to the concept of a compare and contrast essay. Hopefully after reading this article, you will feel more comfortable with writing the compare and contrast essay. You will be able to better select items or ideas to compare and contrast, and eventually writing a compare and contrast essay may seem easy for you.

If you do not feel comfortable yet writing a compare and contrast essay, do not worry.  So first, let’s talk about why compare and contrast essays are important.

Why Compare and Contrast?

“Like comparing apples and oranges” is a cliché used in English. The implication is that it is unfair to compare two things that are not alike. Many students feel like they are being asked to compare apples and oranges when they are asked to write a compare and contrast essay. They think, “How can I compare Beethoven with Jay Z, when their music is so dissimilar?” Or “It is impossible to compare and contrast the theories of Vygotsky and Freud.” The importance of a compare and contrast essay is to get you to think more critically about why things are alike or different, and perhaps make a judgment or argument about which of the two items you prefer, or are better on certain accounts.

For example, apples and oranges are both fruit. Although an orange is a citrus fruit and you cannot eat the skin, it still shares essential botanical features in common with apples. Comparing apples and oranges might lead to the conclusion that oranges are much better fruits for hot weather, whereas apples are better fruits for cold weather.

Likewise, both Beethoven and Jay-Z are musicians, even though they are from different historical and cultural contexts. Comparing and contrasting the two musicians asks you to consider which features of their music are both similar and different. Using the analogy from the field of psychology, both Freud and Vygotsky presented theories of human development, even though their theories were completely different.

The purpose of comparing and contrasting is to show that two things that seem similar are actually different on several key points, or alternatively, to show that two things that seem different are actually quite similar. It is easy to take for granted that apples and oranges are both fruits, while forgetting how different they actually look, feel, and taste. It can be just as easy to forget that in spite of their differences, men and women are actually both human beings with the same needs, desires, and longings.

Benefits of a Compare and Contrast Essay

The purpose of a compare and contrast essay is not just to annoy you as a student. Once you get the hang of how to write a good compare and contrast essay, you will appreciate how it helps teach you how to think more critically about the world around you. Therefore, do not get upset when you are asked to write a compare and contrast essay. You can enjoy the experience, having fun using your creative and critical thinking skills to analyze two items in greater depth than you would have otherwise.

What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

Like most essays, a compare and contrast essay is an important piece of academic writing. You may use formal language in a compare and contrast essay, developing your ideas around a central argument or thesis statement. A compare and contrast essay is a piece of writing that you use to compare and contrast two things. Rarely, you will be asked to compare and contrast more than two things. It is far more common for you to compare and contrast two things because when you add additional elements to compare and contrast, you end up with more of a classification essay than a compare and contrast. Usually a compare and contrast essay will focus on comparing (discussing the similarities between) and contrasting (discussing the differences between) two things.

Writing the Thesis in a Compare and Contrast Essay

The key to a compare and contrast essay is the thesis statement. Think of your thesis statement as an elevator pitch for your essay. If you could summarize your argument in one sentence, how would you do it? Ask yourself what is so important about the two items you are comparing, and why their similarities and differences are important. Your thesis statement in a compare and contrast essay does not need to list all the points of comparison, but it should at least name the two items and the point you are trying to make.

Writing the thesis statement in a compare and contrast essay can be especially difficult. Some students make the mistake of trying to squeeze in too much information into their thesis statement. If you try to place too much detail in the thesis statement, you could end up with a clumsy mess like this: The pizza at Santarpio’s is better than the pizza at Luigi’s because the pizza at Santarpio’s has homemade sausage, served in a comfortable environment, and the restaurant has beer, whereas at Luigi’s the crust is soggy.

Notice how this sentence is too clumsy because you are trying to say too much. Instead of fitting everything into your thesis statement, keep it simple. organize your thoughts first and consider the general point you are trying to make rather than listing all the specifics.

For example, you could say, Although both Luigi’s and Santarpio’s make good pizza, Santarpio’s has better food and atmosphere overall.

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Compare and Contrast at the Same Time

With a compare and contrast essay, you are doing both the comparing and the contrasting. If the two items are more similar than different, still dig deep to discover ways they are different. Likewise, if the two things are more different than similar, you can find ways they are alike. You do not want to focus too much on the similarities between the two items, or spend too much on the differences. The goal of the compare and contrast essay is to compare and contrast, while also drawing some conclusion about your analysis.

Ultimately, though, you will discover that the two items are more similar than they are different in some ways, or that the two items you are comparing are generally more different. In a compare and contrast essay, you need to describe the two items in detail and show why they are similar and how they are different, according to specific descriptors. For example, if you are comparing two totally different things like a cat and a fish, you would at least be able to say that both cats and fish are animals. Then you could say that cats are mammals, have soft fur, and purr, whereas fish live under water and have scales.

How can you show that two things are simultaneously similar and dissimilar? That’s easy—just follow some of the basic steps outlined here, and you will be well on your way towards developing a good compare and contrast essay.

Compare and Contrast Essay Format

Instructors usually refer to two main types of compare and contrast essays: the point by point format, and subject or block format. A point-by-point format compares and contrasts the two items by systematically focusing on specific features or qualities. The one thing at a time format discusses each item individually, and then later draws conclusions based on that in-depth analysis.

The point-by-point format often relies more on inductive reasoning. You are comparing two things on the basis of specific details first, and then drawing general conclusions from those details. The block or subject format of a compare and contrast essay relies more on deductive reasoning.

Sometimes you will be asked to use one or the other of these two formats, point-by-point and block format, for your compare and contrast essay. Other times, the professor or teacher will let you pick whichever method works best for you. There is no one right or wrong way of writing a compare and contrast essay. Both the point by point and one thing at a time methods work equally as well. When you are learning how to write a compare and contrast essay, you will most likely be asked to write both a point-by-point and block format.

Compare and Contrast Essay Structure

As with most academic essays, a compare and contrast essay will follow the basic rules and structure of the five paragraph essay. The structure will include an introduction, body, and conclusion. Yes, you will need that dreaded thesis statement in a compare and contrast essay. Do not be afraid. A thesis statement helps you to organize your thoughts, allowing you write the best possible compare and contrast essay. You will soon find that you naturally write compare and contrast essays using the standard format including introduction, body, and conclusion.

With a point-by-point compare and contrast essay, you will have a format that begins with the introduction and thesis statement. Then, you will devote a paragraph or section of the essay to each of the points of comparison. You will wrap up the essay with a conclusion.

With a block format compare and contrast essay, you also start with the introduction and end with the conclusion. However, your body paragraphs are different because you are describing each item in depth and then later showing how they are similar and different. Both methods are equally as valid, and the format you choose for the compare and contrast essay will depend on the subject.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

When you outline your ideas for the compare and contrast essay, you are more likely to remain organized and on point. It will be much easier for you to envision what you are going to write about, and to remember all your main points so that you can fulfill the necessary word count or page requirements.  Your compare and contrast essay outline will be different depending on which format you choose: point-by-point versus one subject at a time/block format.

Point By Point Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

I. Introduction

A. Grab your reader’s attention with a startling statement!

B. Lead in with the main reasons why you are comparing and contrasting two things.

C. State your claim, your thesis statement.

II. Body paragraph/section: Point One

A. Talk about one reason why the two things are alike and/or different.

B. Use examples and cite sources

III. Body paragraph/section: Point Two

A. Talk about another reason why the two things are alike and/or different.

B. Use examples and cite sources

IV. Body paragraph/section: Point Three

A. Talk about another reason why the two things are alike and/or different.

B. Use examples and cite sources

V. Conclusion

A. Your two things alike in some ways and different in others.

B. Why it is useful to understand the similarities and differences between the two things.

One Thing At a Time/Block Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

I. Introduction

A. Grab your reader’s attention with a startling statement!

B. Lead in with the main reasons why you are comparing and contrasting two things.

C. State your claim, your thesis statement.

II. Body paragraph/section one

A. Describe the first item in detail.

B. Focus on a few main features.

III. Body paragraph/section two

A. Describe the second item in detail

B. Focus on the same main features used to describe item one.

IV. Body paragraph/section three

A. Similarities/Differences between Item One and Item Two according to one main feature.

B. Similarities/Differences between Item One and Item Two according to another main feature.

C. Similarities/Differences between Item One and Item Two according to another main feature.

V. Conclusion

A. Your two things alike in some ways and different in others.

B. Why it is useful to understand the similarities and differences between the two things.

Sample Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

I. Introduction

A. There is nothing that sounds quite like the hammer of the gods.

B. The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin are two of the most important classic rock bands.

C. Although these British Invasion bands share much in common, the music of Led Zeppelin is largely derivative of the blues, whereas the Rolling Stones can be considered more original.

II. Body paragraph/section: Point One: Guitar

A. Both Jimmy Page and Keith Richards are good guitar players, but Page is a better guitar player overall.

B. For example, the guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven” is much better than any solo that Richards played.

III. Body paragraph/section: Point Two: Body of Work

A. Both had lustrous careers, but the Rolling Stones played longer and put out more albums.

B. For example, the Rolling Stones have still put on tours in recent years, whereas Led Zeppelin has not played since their drummer John Bonham, passed away.

IV. Body paragraph/section: Point Three: Originality

A. Led Zeppelin has a better overall sound, but the Rolling Stones have more original songs.

B. Many of Led Zeppelin’s songs are stolen from old blues masters like Leadbelly.

V. Conclusion

A. Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were superb British Invasion bands, but the Stones had more unique songs.

B. Comparing Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones shows how the British Invasion bands all had their own approaches to music.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

1. Pick the Topic. The first step in writing a compare and contrast essay is of course picking the two items or ideas to compare and contrast. Sometimes you are given a specific topic. If you have been given a list of suggestions, pick two things that are interesting to you. Alternatively, you can look at a list of sample compare and contrast essay topics provided here for some fresh ideas.

2. Write your Thesis.

3. Build your Outline.

4. Write the Rough Draft

5. Proofread and Polish.

Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

1. How are jazz and rap music similar and different?

Although their effects and contexts are different, both jazz and rap music are African-American art forms that rely on improvisation and sophisticated rhythms.

2. Compare and contrast servant leadership with transformational leadership.

Both servant leadership and transformational leadership encourage leaders to empower and respect others, but servant leadership relies on the cultivation of humility.

3. How are the United States and ancient Rome similar and different?

Both the United States and ancient Rome based their power on hegemonic rule and territorial expansion, and both succumbed to the tragic flaw of hubris.

4. Compare and contrast Macbeth and Oedipus.

Although they are totally different leaders, both Oedipus and Macbeth both encapsulate the concept of the tragic hero.

5. Discuss which pets are better: cats or dogs.

Dogs encourage you to exercise and socialize more because they need to be walked outside daily, making them a far healthier choice for a pet.

6. Compare and contrast Van Gogh and Gauguin.

Although both Van Gogh and Gauguin were post-impressionists, Van Gogh’s vivid colors and intense brush strokes make his work more engaging and impressive.

7. Which is a better market to expand the Acme Corporation into: China or India?

Because English is one of its official languages, and because there is a niche in the market, India offers better opportunities for Acme’s growth versus China.

8. Compare and contrast two different types of exercise.

Running offers a straightforward cardiovascular workout, whereas yoga offers the opportunity to build strength and flexibility.

9. Which is easier to master: mixed martial arts or boxing?

Mixed martial arts is a more difficult sport to master because it involves learning many different styles of fighting.

10. Compare and contrast Uber versus Lyft.

Uber entered the market first, but their corporate culture issues open up opportunities for Lyft to win in the long run.

11. Compare Ronald Reagan’s 1980 platform versus Donald Trump’s 2016 platform.

Both Reagan and Trump were Republicans, but Reagan reflected mainstream GOP values, whereas Trump is rogue.

12. What are the similarities and differences between Cuba and Vietnam in terms of their communist governments?

Cuba practices more of a pure anti-capitalist form of government, whereas Vietnam welcomes some free market activity even though both countries have elements of totalitarianism.

13. Compare and contrast The Godfather with Goodfellas.

Both The Godfather and Goodfellas are classic mafia movies, but Goodfellas is comedic whereas The Godfather is a pure drama.

14. Both Canada and Australia are former British Commonwealth states; how are they currently alike or different?

Despite being further from England, Australia has a closer connection with the Crown, whereas Canada is more influenced by the United States.

15. Compare and contrast Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Both Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis were master trumpet players, but Miles Davis also experimented with avant-garde forms of music, whereas Gillespie remained more traditional in his approach.

16. Compare and contrast apartheid in South Africa with segregation and Jim Crow in the United States.

Both Jim Crow and Apartheid were institutionalized forms of racism, but Apartheid was more openly embraced on the federal level.

17. What are the differences between Canadian and American football?

Canadian football has three downs, skinny players, and a more open game play, but American football has the best athletes.

18. Compare and contrast the models of colonialism practiced by the Dutch versus the British.

Both the Dutch and the British expanded their territories but the Dutch were more interested in pure economic gain, whereas the British genuinely sought to infiltrate local governments and cultures.

19. Compare and contrast the European Union and the African Union.

The European Union is an integrated customs union with political overtones; the African Union is a political union striving towards economic integration.

20. Compare and contrast Judaism and Christianity.

Although both Judaism and Christianity are monotheistic faiths that follow the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the Christian religion is based around the belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You mastered the basics of a compare and contrast essay. A compare and contrast essay is one of the easiest types of essays you can learn because they follow a fairly strict format and can be used in a wide variety of classrooms from high school to college.

Comparing and contrasting two items is a good exercise for your brain. Using a compare and contrast essay you can think more critically about things, analyze their features or characteristics, and make strong arguments using the English language. If you need help writing your compare and contrast essay, you can utilize our homework help for assistance.