Compare and Contrast Essay Writing Tips

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How to Write a Compare and Contrast in 5 Easy Steps

The comparison/contrast essay is one of the most neglected essay types in high school, probably because many teachers are uncomfortable teaching how to write a compare and contrast essay without confusing their students. This is really not a difficult essay to write, however, if the following steps are followed:

  • You topic selection may be totally left up to you, or you may be given several options for topics, depending upon the class for which this type of essay is assigned. In a political science or economics class, for example you may be asked to write an essay comparing and contrasting capitalism and socialism. In a lit class you may asked to compare and contrast the treatment of racism in A Time to Kill and The Help.
  • Whatever your topic may be, some research will probably be required in order for you to determine points of similarities and of differences between the objects, ideas, or behaviors. And as you do your reading, make two lists – one for comparisons and one for contrasts. This will really help you down the road.
  • Many instructors counsel students to make a compare and contrast essay outline to develop the structure of their essay. Most students will probably find it much easier to use a Venn diagram, because it is a great visual for seeing similarities and differences. Once that Venn diagram is completed, then it is a good time to create an outline.
  • The outline will depend upon the compare and contrast essay format you have decided to use. There are two major options for format.
    • The first format will have 2 large body paragraphs. The first one will fully describe the characteristics of the first object, idea, etc. You will then need a strong transition sentence at the end of that paragraph that leads you into the second one. Your second paragraph will then fully describe the characteristics of the second object, idea, etc., sticking only to the same characteristics that you used in the first paragraph. The simplest example to demonstrate this format is a comparison of an apple and an orange. In the first paragraph, you might include that an apple is a fruit, it is round, has a thin red or green skin, a crisp interior, with seeds clustered around a core. Your second paragraph, describes the orange - also a fruit and also round. The similarities end there, however, as an orange has a thick orange-colored skin, a soft interior divided into segments, with seed throughout its pulp, and no core.
    • Writing a compare and contrast essay using the second format will have several shorter paragraphs, and is a preferred format when complex ideas or concepts are being compared and contrasted. Each paragraph will take one characteristic and address the similarities or differences between the two items. If you were to compare and contrast capitalism and socialism, for example, your first paragraph might provide a general definition of each ideology; your next paragraph might speak to the role of government in each of the systems; still another paragraph might address wealth distribution in each of them.
  • There are also times when you may be asked to only use one-half of this type of essay. You may be asked only to compare two items or only to contrast. When such an essay is assigned, using a Venn diagram to organize your thoughts is still a good idea, because it will clearly give you the points you will cover. And stick to the topic here. If you are comparing, only discuss similarities; if you are contrasting, only discuss the differences.

Once your body paragraphs are completed, you are ready to write your compare and contrast essay introduction. You should of course open with an attention-grabbing fact or anecdote, just as you would in any other essay. An example might be this: Of all of the developed nations in the world, the United States is the only country that continues to describe its economic system as capitalistic.

The compare and contrast essay requires very specific organizational structure if it is to be coherent and logical. Carefully using either of the two formats should give you that coherency.