How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

April 23, 2017 How To Write
How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Learning how to write a compare and contrast essay is a rite of passage for many college students, as this essay type is one of the most common assignments in college, especially in the first year. Writing a compare and contrast essay helps students develop and improve upon skills such as critical reasoning, scientific argumentation, and organized systematic writing. The best essays of this type have a clear purpose, such as shedding light on a complex idea or clearing up misconceptions about a difficult topic. Another purpose might be illustrating how one subject is better than another or perhaps highlighting a new approach to thinking about something. The individual assignment will vary, of course, and each should come with its rubric. Pay close attention to the rubric, since it will outline what your teacher is looking for, and make sure you understand the assignment before you begin. If you have a question about the essay assignment, do not be afraid to ask your teacher for help.

The compare and contrast essay format is similar to that of other essay types. The writer must state a thesis in the introduction, argue the thesis in the body, and then form a conclusion. However, with a compare and contrast essay, the goal is to show how one subject is similar to another (i.e., compare them), as well as how it is different (i.e., contrast them). Such an essay requires upfront planning to ensure the writer has a firm grasp on both subjects. One way to plan for a compare and contrast essay is to create a Venn diagram to show how two subjects are similar and different, such as this one. Here’s an example:

compare and contrast essay diagram example

You may find that you need to create several of these diagrams before you know what your thesis is and what your two subjects are. Be open to different possibilities. The first two subjects you diagram may not be the ones you want to compare and contrast in your essay, but creating that diagram may give you some useful ideas.

Creating an Outline

It would also be a good idea to create an outline before you begin writing. The outline is like a template that you can follow to keep your essay on track throughout the writing process, and it should include the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

Here’s an example outline for a compare and contrast essay about the effects of energy drinks:

  • Introduction (hints at supporting arguments for thesis): widespread use of energy drinks
    • Thesis: Energy drinks are stimulating and easy to consume (and thus are both similar to a different from coffee/tea) but may be more akin to soft drugs in the long run
  • Body (supporting arguments for thesis)
    • Pros (how energy drinks are similar to and sometimes better than coffee or tea): enhancing, energy boosting, quick acting, portable
    • Cons (how energy drinks are more dangerous than they are worth): regular and excessive consumption can lead to health concerns, negative side effects soon after consumption, addictive, exhaustion of nervous system
  • Conclusion: Cons outweigh pros, as too many energy drinks can lead to druglike effects

Now that you’ve compared and contrasted your subjects using a diagram, drafted a thesis, gathered some supporting evidence, and created an essay outline, you’re ready to get started writing.

How to Start

How to start a compare and contrast essay

To start a compare and contrast essay, you will need to write a solid introduction that transitions into a clear and specific thesis sentence. The introductory paragraph should outline the topic you want to cover and provide insight into your main idea. It should mention what matters—the people, ideas, events, or other subjects you are going to compare and contrast in the body of your essay.

In the introduction, include the necessary background information. Your introduction should be brief, but exhaustive. Before stating your thesis, you should provide a preview of your supporting arguments and positions, as your reader needs to understand why your subject matter is worth comparing and contrasting.

Pay attention to the structure of your essay, and make sure it is balanced. For instance, if the whole essay will be three pages long, you should not spend two of them on the introduction.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

End your introduction with a thesis sentence. It will allow readers to grasp your opinion of the compared subject matters, and it will logically draw their attention to the main idea.

In the thesis, provide one idea or a statement that unites both subject matters. Even if you have discovered more differences than similarities between your subject matters, you should be able to find at least one element that they have in common and include it as part of your main idea.

In the body, present as much support for your thesis as you can. Support can come in the form of statistics, research results, interviews, or other sources. Some writers prefer to mention the evidential base in the thesis, but others prefer to wait until the body of the essay.

Draw a conclusion at the end of your essay based on the similarities and differences you have presented throughout the paper. The conclusion should not introduce any new ideas but should bring closure to the paper.

Also, guys from EssayPro have prepared a video guide on "How to write a Compare and Contrast Essay":


Good Topic Ideas

A good compare and contrast essay topic often includes words such as “versus” (vs.) or “or,” and these words may be useful in the essay’s title as well. Below is a list of potential compare and contrast essay topics for college papers. Ten of these sample topics have “vs.” in the title, and ten have “or,” clearly indicating that the resulting essays will either compare and contrast two completely different subjects or clarify two positions on the same subject.

Here is the list of possible topics for compare and contrast essay:

  • Energy Drinks: Mind Boosters or Soft Drugs
  • International Monetary Fund: Economic Investments or a Debt Pit
  • Abortion: Life Saver or Death Sentence
  • Online Courses: Waste of Time or a Key to Better Future
  • Cell Phones: Vital Gadget or a Deadly Threat
  • Homeopathy: Self-Deceptiveness or Real Treatment
  • GMO: Famine Problem Solution or Poison
  • Online Communication: True Friendship or Illusion of Emotional Bond
  • Religion: Vestige of the Past or Salvation of Nations
  • Plural Marriage: Way Out of Underpopulation or Flashback to Barbarian Times
  • Edward Snowden vs. Julius Caesar
  • Putin vs. Obama
  • Orwell vs. Huxley
  • Dita Von Tease vs. Bettie Page
  • Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone
  • Napoleon vs. Kutuzov
  • Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates
  • Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Eddison
  • Jesus vs. Thor

Related: How to Choose Essay Topics

Example

This example compare and contrast essay clarifies two positions on energy drinks. Notice that it does so by comparing and contrasting energy drinks with other types of caffeinated beverages.

Energy Drinks: Mind Boosters or Soft Drugs

Energy drinks in aluminum cans are relatively new for humankind, but stimulating substances were used centuries before aluminum cans were invented. Today, energy drinks seem to be a panacea for students during exams, white collar employees during deadline periods, night clubbers dancing all night long, athletes heading toward a record, drivers, and basically, everyone who is dog-tired and must stay awake and work hard. You drink a can, and then you are ready to go for several hours afterward.

The producers of energy drinks say that the stimulation effect of their products is ultimately healthy, so they carry on producing new energy drinks all the time. If these drinks were so safe, why would legislators be going after them? Energy drinks: mind boosters or soft drugs? Let us get this all straightened out.

Pros:

  • They enhance brain activity when needed.
  • The energy-boosting effects of coffee last mere 1-2 hours, while those of energy drinks last 3-4 hours. Moreover, most of them are aerated, which makes them work faster, and coffee does not get the same treatment.
  • The aluminum can allow you to consume an energy drink in almost any situation: in the car, on the dance floor, in the school library, and so on. Coffee and tea are not always so portable.

Cons:

  • You should drink no more than two cans of an energy drink each day. Drinking more than that increases your risk of elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, or both.
  • It has been said that energy drinks fill you with energy, but that is simply not true. They work as a key to your inner energy reserves, helping you tap into your naturally stored energy. Later, you have to pay the price: insomnia, weariness, peevishness, and depression.
  • The caffeine in energy drinks not only builds up an addiction if you drink more than two cans a day but also exhausts your nervous system.

What conclusion can be drawn from these pros and cons? Obviously, there is nothing healthy about energy drinks. Their contents do not differ much from everyday tea, coffee, and cocoa. Moreover, they exhaust the energy reserves of our bodies. When the stimulating effect is over in three or four hours, a person goes for another can, turning into an energy drink addict, losing the ability to restore energy in a natural way. To my mind, the cons of energy drinks outweigh the pros. My verdict is that energy drinks are mind boosters in some critical situations, but you should not drink them on a regular basis, as they can take on a drug like quality and become soft drugs.

"Tokyo and Kyoto" - Compare and Contrast Essay Sample

One more video guidance on How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay:

How to conclude?

As you saw in the example above, the conclusion of an essay should help the reader understand the writer’s point of view. In other words, the best essays have a conclusion that reminds the reader of the thesis and shows, through a summary of the paper’s findings, how the thesis is correct. The example compare and contrast essay, about energy drinks, uses the thesis that energy drinks are overused and can be seen as either mind boosters or “soft drugs.” The conclusion sums up the findings from the body of the essay and then uses those findings to provide an opinion, a direct answer to the thesis question of whether energy drinks help boost the mind or inhibit it like a drug.

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