In a compare and contrast essay, you look at the similarities and differences between two subjects. How do you write one, though? Key steps include:
Pick two things to compare based on the assignment you were given.
Brainstorm the similarities and differences between your chosen subjects.
Choose a structure for your essay and plan how you will write it.
Write up your comparison and use evidence to support your argument.
Revise and proofread your essay to make sure it is perfect.
For more advice on each stage, check out our guide below.
1. Pick Two Subjects to Compare and Contrast
A compare and contrast assignment will ask you, unsurprisingly, to compare and contrast two things. In some cases, the assignment question will make this clear. For instance, if the assignment says “Compare how Mozart and Beethoven use melody,” you will have a very clear sense of what to write about!
Other times, you will have a choice of what to compare. In this case, you will want to pick two things that are similar enough to make a useful comparison.
For example, comparing Mozart and Beethoven makes sense because both are classical composers. This means there will be lots of points of comparison between them. But comparing Mozart to a Ferrari SF90 Stradale would just be confusing: one is a renowned composer and musician, the other is a high-end sports car, so they have very little in common that we could usefully compare.
At the same time, the things you pick should be different enough that you can find points of contrast. Were you asked to compare the calorific content of two types of fast food, for example, it might not make sense to compare hamburgers and cheeseburgers as they are too similar. But you could compare hamburgers and pizzas since both are forms of fast food but they differ in other respects.
As such, if you need to pick the subjects of your essay, read your assignment question carefully and try to find two things that will produce a helpful comparison.
2. Brainstorm Their Similarities and Differences
The next step is to brainstorm similarities and differences between your chosen subjects. You can do this as a simple list, but you could also use a Venn diagram.
This is a set of overlapping circles, each of which represents one subject. You can then add characteristics to each circle, with anything your subjects have in common going in the overlapping bit in the middle.
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Once you’ve listed characteristics, you’ll need to pick out the similarities and differences relevant to your essay. If you were assigned a question, use this to guide your choices. Otherwise, look for features that seem surprising or interesting and plan your essay around these. The key is to pick points of comparison that help us to understand each thing better, or where the similarities and differences show us something that we might not have expected or noticed otherwise.
3. Choose a Structure for Your Essay
As with any essay, you will want to start with a short introduction where you introduce your topic and what you will argue. Beyond this, most compare and contrast essays are structured in one of two ways. Decide which approach to take before you write your essay outline:
Divide by subject – Cover each subject in turn, looking at the key features you’ve identified in the previous step. You can then include a final section where you highlight what comparing the subjects tell us.
Divide by individual points – Break your essay down into a series of sections. Each section will then focus on one of the key features you’ve identified, explaining the similarities and differences between your chosen subjects.
For instance, if you were comparing two novels, you could write about each novel in turn and then compare them at the end. Alternatively, you could structure your essay so that each section covers an individual idea (e.g., one on structure, one on characters, one on language), looking at how each book uses these things.
In either case, you will want to end on a conclusion where you summarize what the comparison has shown us about the two subjects.
4. Use Supporting Evidence for Your Argument
It is important that you also back up your statements with supporting evidence. In some cases, this will simply involve pointing to the features of each subject that you’re discussing (e.g., citing specific parts of the novels you’re comparing).
However, you can also do extra research to back up your arguments. Were you comparing two countries’ economic performance, for example, you could use statistics from other studies or reports to show the similarities and differences.
5. Proofread Your Compare and Contrast Essay
Once you have a first draft of your compare and contrast essay, take a break. If you have time, leave it overnight. The aim is to come back to it with fresh eyes and reread it, looking for any areas you could improve. After this, you can redraft your essay to make sure your argument is clear, concise, and convincing.
It is also a good idea to have your essay proofread before submitting it. This will ensure your work is error free and help you get the marks you deserve.