Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
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College Essays include a complete sequence of activities and exercises that will guide and help students, step by step, in the process of comparing and contrasting two subjects in a standard essay format. It is highly suggested for the students to have at least basic knowledge of essay structure and constituents before working on the essay in order to understand the concepts better.
A comparison displays how two topics are alike or similar; a contrast displays how two topics are dissimilar or different. Students must identify adequate statements for contrast essay and write appropriate thesis statements and concluding statements to end the comparison and contrast essay. Essay writing in short will give students practice in clear and logical reasoning.
What are Contrast Essays?Back to Top
An essay academic essay consists of an introductory paragraph or the introduction, three supporting paragraphs called the body, and a concluding paragraph or conclusion. All five paragraphs must be associated to discuss one single topic. Writing an essay helps students to sort out and consolidate ideas, and think them through clearly. A comparison and contrast essay observes the similarities or one can call it “compares” and/or “contrasts” differences between two items in order to make a point. Below are few examples of comparison and contrast ideas:
- Compare / contrast two professions
- Compare / contrast two colleges
- Compare / contrast two bikes
In all the cases the similarities and differences lead to a convincing definite conclusion which is an important feature of the comparison and contrast essay. This essay focuses on a common thought process, as we tend to use it in our day to day lives whenever we make decisions.
The comparison or contrast essays should make a point or serve a purpose. Often such essays do one of the following: ƒ
- Clarify something indefinite or not well understood. ƒ
- Lead to a fresh understanding or new way of observing something. ƒ
- Bring one or both of the subjects into shriller focus. ƒ
- Show that one subject is better than the other.
Comparison/ Contrast Essay OutlineBack to Top
In a Comparison or contrasted essay select objects that are related in some way, so they can be compared or contrasted. Choose a process of progress that works well with organizing idea. Use precise and relevant examples for support. Give equal conduct to both components that you is being discussed. Compare according to a single planned idea. Use transitional words or phrases to help readers understand the similarities and differences in the subject. Conclude the paper by restating or paraphrasing the thesis, summarizing the main points, and give the reader the final ‘so what’ - of the major similarities and/or differences discussed.
- The two subjects must make sense to compare or contrast. For instance you can compare two soccer teams , but not a cricket team and soccer team. By way of selecting a topic, remember that a student is not supposed to be describing the two things they’re writing about.
- The introduction should state the reason for comparison or contrast for instance which is the most desirable or lesser desirable of the two.
- The thesis statement should clearly represent the two things to be compared or contrasted such as the subject and the main points or criteria for the comparison or contrast.
- The main points must be grammatically parallel.
- The main points or criteria must apply to both items.
The Purpose of a Compare and Contrast EssayBack to Top
The thesis statement is, the controlling idea of the entire essay. It also acts as the main idea of a compare and contrast essay. It is the sentence that controls and summarizes the direction and the content of the essay. At the same time, the thesis sentence associates the introduction paragraph with the body of the essay. In the comparison and contrast essay, the student must give their OPINION in the thesis statement.
- The student is required to take a stand and tolerate it through the essay.
- The thesis statement provides control, strength, and direction to the body of the essay.
- The direction and control is achieved by Parallel Structures.
- The thesis statement is not the heading or the title of the essay.
- Thesis statement organizes and outlines the ideas for the body paragraph.
- The thesis statement is not a individual announcement.
- Never use expressions such as “In this essay I am going to compare, my essay is about…” in a formal essay.
- The conclusion brings the paper to an ordinary natural and beautiful end, sometimes leaving the reader with a final thought on the subject.
Connectors that show similarities or comparisons
- In addition
- Compared to
- Just as
- As well as
- Same as
- At the same time
Connectors that show differences and contrast
- On the contrary
- On the other hand
- Even though
- In contrast
Basic Methods for Organizing Comparison / Contrast Paragraphs
- If you let X and Y stand for the two subjects being compared, then you can use the block method in which you tell all about X, then tell all about Y. Thus you discuss X in a block and Y in a block.
- If you let X and Y stand for the two subjects being compared, then you compare them point by point. Every time you say something about X, you also say something about Y – right in the same sentence or in the sentence immediately following.
The Point by Point MethodBack to Top
The Point by Point method is also called the alternating method or slice method which makes a comparison of the items one point or criteria at a time. The main topic or theme statement or sentence aims on the point being used as the base for comparison rather than the item. A comparison of one point of a subject with a point of the other subject is called the Point by Point Method.
- Keeps each set of ideas, arguments, thoughts for discussion
- The reader does not have to remember as much facts and figures.
- Keeps the paper undoubtedly well planned and organized
- Avoids summary
- Can appear automatic and monotonous
- Does not provide a combined discussion or conversation of the two sides
Point 1 - discuss A
Point 1 - discuss B
Discussion about overall links between A and B
Point 2 – discuss A
Point 2 - discuss B
Discussion about overall links between A and B
Block MethodBack to Top
Block Method describes all the similarities in the first body paragraph and then all the dissimilarities and differences in the second body paragraph. A presentation of all facts and supporting details about one topic followed by the facts and supporting details about the second topic
- Offers the complete picture of the two sides
- Can be more effective if the essay is short and covers a general issue
- Does not appear as monotonous and boring
- If the writer is not careful it tends to become a summary
- The paper is not always organized clearly
- Is not successful for papers over 3-4 page
Point 1 - about A
Point 2 - about B
Point 1 about B (with discussion about relation to A)
Point 2 about B (with discussion about relation to A)
Structure of a Compare and Contrast EssayBack to Top
- Body Paragraphs
Comparison or Contrast Essay TopicsBack to Top
- Apple vs. Microsoft
- Republican vs. Democrat
- Monarchy vs. Presidency
- Childhood vs. Adulthood
- Communism vs. Capitalism
- Mozart vs. Beethoven
- Friends vs. Family
- Newton vs. Einstein
- Go on Vacation vs. Stay at Home
- Halloween night to prom night.
- Christopher Columbus to early astronauts.
- Living on a farm to living in the city.
- Being a teen to being a toddler.
- Your experiences before and after giving up a bad habit
- The car you own and the car you dream of owning
- Your best birthday to your worst birthday.
ExerciseBack to Top
Choose one of the essay topics, and write a comparison or contrast essay.
- Compare or contrast two musical styles, such as jazz and reggae.
- Compare or contrast two restaurants.
- Compare or contrast doing research at the library with doing research on the Internet.
- Compare or contrast living on campus with living off campus.
- Compare or contrast raising children in a city and raising children in a small town.