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 two things essay
How to start an essay on comparing two things
A comparison essay explores the similarities and differences that exist between two or more items, people, personalities, or places. To effectively compare two things, one needs first to identify the subject within which each of the two elements lies. For instance, one may be asked to write an essay comparing two cities in different parts of the world. It is vital that the countries within which each city lies be first recognized. Next, the writer has to determine whether or not adequate features or aspects exist to compare the two things. At least three points or areas of comparison must be identified for each side. A comparison essay will be more than one page hence if the writer cannot identify at least three key points that make the two things similar or different, he or she will hardly come up with a stellar paper. Putting down the thesis statement in the last part of the introduction to illustrate the paper’s principal objective can be a good start to writing a comparison essay.
How to write body paragraphs
The body paragraphs will delve into describing the similarities and differences between the two things, in detail. The first paragraph will examine at least three major points of similarity between the two items, people or places. This can be in respect of the first outstanding key characteristic. For instance, when comparing two leaders who ruled in different time periods such as Presidents J.F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, the points of similarity in the different time periods within which each ruled the U.S, such as both were preceded by Republicans, will be highlighted in the first paragraph. Additionally, it is expected that the age at which each of them became president, their family backgrounds, educational achievements, ideologies, and their charisma will be pointed out. For places, the writer has to mention the origin, administrators, major features such as the key cultural or traditional aspects associated with those places, among other crucial areas of similarity.
The second paragraph will be a deeper analysis of further similarities. If the author is for instance, focusing on points of similarity between the works of two poets, he or she will now at this point spot other less discussed but important similarities between the two pieces of work. While the first paragraph brings out the glaring similarities between the two items or people, the second paragraph merely elaborates on more features. To some extent, the second paragraph can also serve to analyze the characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph. For instance, looking at the similarities between Presidents J.F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, the writer would analyze the similarities in the policies that each president’s administration pursued.
The third paragraph will highlight the differences or points of contrast between the two items, places, or people. The author has to list at least three major differences. He or she can do this by stating the first point of differentiation on one side and then contrasting it with the other side, along the same line. For instance, when comparing the works of two poets, the writer can outline the different periods within which each poet lived, and stating that “while poet X lived during the Reaganomics days and wrote from the perspectives of those times, poet Y’s work emerged and gained fame during the early days of the Obama era.” A point raised on one side has to be met by another contrasting point relating to the opposite side/thing.
The fourth paragraph will be a brief analysis of the differences pointed out in the previous paragraph. The contrasting points have to be made clear such that the reader can get to clearly understand the deeper differences that exist between the two things. As the analysis will go into detail, the writer can choose to focus on two areas to contrast in this paragraph.
All sources accessed and used throughout the body of the essay must be cited appropriately.
How to conclude an essay on comparing two things
A valid conclusion will briefly restate the main similarities and differences identified in the body of the essay. The writer can choose to summarize two similarities and two differences and then tie them together in a single sentence.
Topics for Comparing Two Things
Possible topics for an essay on comparing two things are highlighted below:
- Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy
- Radio and Television advertising
- Extraverted and Introverted people
- Snapchat and Instagram
- Twitter and Facebook
- Russian politics and American politics
- The 1940s and 1980s
- The two World Wars
- A. Hitler and J. Stalin
- Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston
Introduction – which two things are being compared and contrasted?
Body – three major points of comparison.
- Analysis of two points of comparison
- Three major points of contrast/differences
- Analysis of two points of contrast
Conclusion – restatement of major differences and similarities.