How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

You have been assigned a compare and contrast essay but what is it and where do you even begin?

The purpose of this type of essay is to focus on two or more topics examining them for subtle differences and unexpected similarities. These topics can be closely related, say a zebra and a horse, or they can be vastly different, like a pizza and salad. The focus of a compare and contrast essay is to bring to light something unknown, show whether one is superior to another, argue a point with supported facts, or clear up a misunderstanding.  Using similarities and differences a meaningful argument can be made about the subjects.

What is a compare and contrast essay?

A compare and contrast essay is exactly what the name implies. Taking two, or more, topics analyze them critically to bring out similarities and dissimilarities. Your topic could be about characters in a book, places to visit, a concept, idea, or anything that holds some amount of similarity. The similarities and dissimilarities can be simple to spot or they can be difficult. The essay will bring them to light.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Preparing to write

To begin you will need to decide what two (or more) topics to compare and contrast. These topics need to be different enough to allow comparison. You have to be able to answer the question of why it is useful or interesting to compare and contrast these two subjects.

Begin by brainstorming the similarities and differences of your subjects. Write lists of traits that each subject possesses and take note of where the differences are. Brainstorming will bring to light the major points. This will help you determine what you will want to focus on.

Once you have your main topics, a list of similarities and differences, and an idea of the major points you can begin outlining the skeleton of your essay. (See How to Write an Essay Outline)

Outline Structures

Begin your outline by deciding whether you will be structuring your essay subject by subject, point by point, or compare then contrast. Let’s use Zebras and Horses as an example.

Let’s compare and contrast these three structures.

A subject by subject essay outline of horses and zebras

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Horses
      1. Habitat
      2. Physical traits
        1. Coloration
        2. Body
        3. Feet
  • Sound
  1. Behavior
  1. Zebras
    1. Habitat
    2. Physical traits
      1. Coloration
      2. Body
      3. Feet
  • Sound
  1. Behavior
  1. Conclusion

A point by point essay outline of horses and zebras

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Habitat
      1. Horses
      2. Zebras
    2. Physical Traits
      1. Coloration
        1. Horses
        2. Zebras
      2. Body
        1. Horses
        2. Zebras
  • Feet
    1. Horses
    2. Zebras
  1. Sound
    1. Horses
    2. Zebras
  2. Behavior
    1. Horses
    2. Zebras
  3. Conclusion

A compare then contrast essay outline of horses and zebras

  1. Introduction
  2. Comparisons of horses and zebras
  3. Contrasts of horses and zebras
  4. Conclusion

Let’s compare and contrast these outlines.

A subject by subject outline gives you the advantage of discussing one topic at a time. The difficulty of this structure is that the comparisons and contrast do not become evident till the end of the essay.

A point by point structure is very clear what you are comparing and contrasting, however you must be careful in clearly identifying which subject you are referring to as it can become easy to confuse them.

A compare then contrast outline emphasizes contrast. However, since it begins with the comparisons it is difficult to maintain your readers interest in seeing the purpose of the essay.

Once you have chosen your structure it is time to write your essay.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Writing your compare and contrast essay

Begin your comparative essay with an introduction and thesis statement. In one or two sentences present the topic of your paper and the position you will be defending. Your thesis statement will help you in the writing of your paper to stay focused and clear. It should be specific and cover only what you will be supporting in your paper.

Compare and contrast essay thesis example: “While horses and zebras have many things in common it is their differences that led to the domestication of horses. These difference help explain why we domesticate some animals and leave others in the wild.”

Your body paragraphs will need to provide concrete evidence to support your thesis. This is where you will organize and share research. Begin by writing down a main idea. This will be a paragraph’s topic sentence. Next write supporting points for the main idea and fill it in with the research collected. The paragraph will end with a conclusion sentence supporting the main idea. The number of body paragraphs you write will depend on the structure of your compare and contrast essay as well as the number of similarities and contrasts you choose to highlight.

Here is a sample paragraph for a body paragraph using a point-by-point comparison.

“While there are many similarities in the appearance of a horse and a zebra there are also strong differences in their physical makeup. A horse’s hooves tend to be larger in size and softer than a zebra. The main of a horse is long and lays over the neck while a zebra’s is stiff, short, and stands upright. The tails are also different.  A horse has a full haired tail while a zebra’s tail only has hair at the end.”

Finish the essay with a conclusion. The conclusion is where you summarize everything you have already written. This is where you restate the main idea and summarize the main points of your essay. Here is where you leave your reader with any final impressions.

The paragraph below is an example conclusion.

“The differences between horses and zebras help explain why some animals are domesticated and some are left in the wild. While there are many similarities in the physical makeup of these animals it is the differences in aggression and physique that led to the domestication of the horse. When looking at wild animals to domesticate it is important to weigh carefully the benefits to both human and animal before doing so.”

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Compare and Contrast Essay Writing Tips from Our Team

  • Brainstorm similarities and differences. Write all similarities on one side of a piece of paper and differences on another.
  • Figure out your why early on. What value does comparing and contrasting these two subjects bring your reader?
  • Take detailed notes while researching your subjects.
  • Edit. Edit.
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