What is a comparative essay?
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare
- positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
- theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
- figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
- texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamletand Macbeth)
- events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
Make sure you know the basis for comparison
The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.
- Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
- Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.
Develop a list of similarities and differences
Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.
For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.
The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.
Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences
Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:
- Differences outweigh similarities:
While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
- Similarities outweigh differences:
Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.
Come up with a structure for your essay
- Alternating method: Point-by-point patternIn the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For instance, a comparative essay on the French and Russian revolutions might examine how both revolutions either encouraged or thwarted innovation in terms of new technology, military strategy, and the administrative system.
A Paragraph 1 in body new technology and the French Revolution B Paragraph 2 in body new technology and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 3 in body military strategy and the French Revolution B Paragraph 4 in body military strategy and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 5 in body administrative system and the French Revolution B Paragraph 6 in body administrative system and the Russian Revolution
Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.
When do I use the alternating method? Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.
- Block method: Subject-by-subject patternIn the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block method on the French and Russian revolutions would address the French Revolution in the first half of the essay and the Russian Revolution in the second half. If you choose the block method, however, do not simply append two disconnected essays to an introductory thesis. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
A Paragraphs 1–3 in body How the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation B Paragraphs 4–6 in body How the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation
When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:
- You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
- Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
- You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.
How to Do a Compare and Contrast Essay Outline
Click to see example
The content of a compare and contrast essay is about two different, yet relatively related entities which are critically analyzed on the basis of their similarities or differences. The approach to a compare and contrast paper must therefore be objective in disentangling the subject and highlighting their common characteristics. The paper should be clear and comprehensive to avoid misconstrued elements that confuse the reader on the points outlined by the writer. The entities discussed in a compare and contrast paper must relate to having some common similarities while still distinguishable to show how they differ from one another.
This article offers guidelines whilst outlining tips on how to write a perfect compare and contrast essay and citing relevant examples where appropriate.
Tips concerning introduction writing
Here are some tips to consider when writing a compare and contrast paper introduction:
- The introduction of a compare and contrast paper must define the two or more principle subjects of the topic.
- The writer has to come up with a good and interesting hook for the paper to capture the attention of the reader and influence him/her to go through the whole.
- The introduction can also feature the definition of the principle terms to be compared and contrasted.
- To have a good introduction, ensure that it is short, clear and interesting without giving much detail.
- Include a thesis statement in the latter parts of the introduction paragraph to show the purpose and significance of the paper to the reader.
Tips on thesis writing
Thesis writing on a compare and contrast essay is largely founded on the main reason of the work.
- Place the thesis as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.
- Use conditioned word to write the thesis statement such as; although, whereas, while, etc.
- Ensure you aptly show each of the discussable entities addressed in the paper.
- Narrow the focus of the paper to avoid overly broad content which may not be necessary.
- Include the specific purpose of the paper in the thesis statement.
Guidelines on body paragraphs
To write a great paper, keep in mind that in a compare and contrast essay writing, the author must show the distinctive characteristic of the subject entities.
- Each paragraph must carry its point.
- Write either the similarities or differences first and the other later.
- For the differences, each paragraph should show how the two different entities differ before proceeding to the next paragraph.
- Write short paragraphs that are clear, precise and specific to avoid ambiguity.
- Ensure you have an outline that makes you to adhere to the relevant and important details for your essay.
Tips on writing the outline
The importance of an outline for a compare and contrast paper is indispensable. The outline keeps the writer focused on the relevant elements of the subject topic. Orderliness and logical flow of ideas are of paramount importance in writing compare and contrast essay outlining to avoid ambiguity and confusion when writing the final draft.. Here are some of the tips for compare and contrast essay outline writing.
- Put down the similarities and differences of the entities in shorthand
- The compare and contrast paper outline should at least capture all the main points to be discussed
- Number your points
- Write the strongest points first
- Insert subtopics from topics followed by a short description
Tips on conclusion writing
The conclusion is a powerful part of the entire paper that brings together the two related yet antagonizing entities. Here are some tips for writing a perfect conclusion for a comparison and contrasting paper.
- Write a general summary of the points in the body paragraphs
- Reassert the thesis statement
- Base your conclusion on data/evidence presented above and not personal opinions
- The summary should not convey the content in the same words used in the body, but emphatically state the point in a new and convincing way
- Keep the conclusion short, concise and objective
The following is a perfect example of how a compare and contrast paper outline is written. The example of a compare and contrast paper outline below shows the format and general appearance of compare and contrast papers.
Dogs Vs Cats
Introduction to the broad topic – Cats and Dogs are some of the animals largely domesticated by man.
Thesis statement –in this paper, the differences and similarities of dogs and cats are discussed in details featuring the important details.
- Both are domestic animals
- They are both carnivorous
- Both are pets
- Dogs are bigger than cats
- Fully grown cats have 30 teeth while dogs have 42
- Dogs are more easily trainable than cats
Summary of main points – some of the differences discussed above include about their dental formula, trainability, and physical attributes. Their most pronounced attributes include their carnivorous nature and considered to be pets.