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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Compare the feeling you get when you earn an A on a paper to how you feel when you get a D on a paper. There’s really no comparison, is there?
My goal in writing this post is for you learn more about compare and contrast essays, so you can skip that wretched feeling of getting a D and instead feel that euphoric “I earned an A and want to break out my happy dance” feeling.
Check out these examples that not only make cool comparisons but also help you see what a good comparison essay looks like. (You can do your happy dance later.)
Compare and Contrast Essay Resources
Before you start any paper, you need to have an understanding of how to write it. If you need a bit of a refresher on the basics of a compare and contrast essay, check out these two posts.
If you have a pretty good sense of how to write a compare and contrast paper but need a topic before you can even begin to think about writing, here are 49 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics to Help You Get Started.
Need some more topic inspiration? Browse through some additional examples of comparison essays.
If you’ve got the how and the topic mastered but aren’t sure how to get started, This Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Will Help You Beat Writer’s Block. Or give these additional tips and handy worksheets a try.
Ready to see two comparison essay examples that make cool comparisons? Keep reading!
2 Comparison Essay Examples That Make Cool Comparisons
Comparison essay example #1: A Comparison of Disney Princesses
The first essay focuses on basic comparisons of two common Disney princesses. My comments within the paper highlight both strengths and areas in need of improvement.
Before I address the content of the essay, let’s talk about the title. It would be an understatement to say that this title lacks creativity. Learn how to write a better title by reading How to Write Good Essay Titles That Are…Good.
(*Click images below to enlarge)
Comparison essay example #2: Hinduism and Buddhism Compare and Contrast Essay
This paper focuses on a comparison of Hinduism and Buddhism. Like the previous essay, the title of this paper needs work. This essay, though, provides a solid comparison of the two religions.
Remember, when writing a compare and contrast essay, it’s impossible to compare every aspect. The key to a successful essay is choosing two or three key points to compare. Here, the writer successfully compares rebirth and the steps one must take in each religion to escape rebirth.
As with the previous example, I’ve included a few comments about what this writer does well and what the writer might do to improve this paper.
(*Click images below to enlarge)
The Finishing Touches
It’s your turn to shine and use all that you’ve learned to write an impressive, even awe-inspiring compare and contrast essay. Remember the strong (and weak) elements highlighted in the comparison essay examples to keep you on the right path.
These resources might help you avoid some of the shortcomings highlighted in the comparison essay examples:
If, by chance, you’re studying poetry and need a little more help, check out these two posts:
Also try using the compare and contrast thesis statement builder.
Once your paper is complete, let our Kibin editors polish your paper to perfection.
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