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How to Write a Compare & Contrast Paper in APA Style


The American Psychological Association’s style format, called APA style, is a set of guidelines for writing research papers in the social sciences discipline. Characterized by four major sections -- including a title page, abstract, main body and reference list -- APA style requires students to write clear and concise arguments while also providing resources for the information presented in the paper. While you can write numerous types of research-based papers in APA style, one popular writing prompt is the compare and contrast paper.

Compare and Contrast Papers

The compare and contrast writing prompt requires you to compare two things that are similar yet different. By the end of the paper, you must reach a conclusion that explains the connections or differences you see between the two subjects. If you write about the Civil War, your thesis might read, "While the North and South both fought over slavery in the Civil War, the North focused on moral issues of oppression while the South defended their government institutions." As a paper in APA style, your compare and contrast essay must include examples and information from resources that are cited in your text as well as in a reference list.

APA Style Format

The essay itself should follow a standard five-paragraph format, which is the main body of your paper. Your first paragraph is the introduction, while the last paragraph is your conclusion. The middle three paragraphs serve as the body of your essay, in which you will write about the similarities and differences of your subject. Additionally, APA style dictates that you must also include a title page, abstract and reference page.

Pre-Writing

Before you begin writing the bulk of your paper, start with some brainstorming, write an outline and obtain reliable resources. For example, if you are asked to compare and contrast the works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, find three or four elements in their poetry collections that you can use to draw comparisons. You can also use biographies or critiques as resources. You might find more than three or four comparisons, so write down the strongest ones, as each one will make up a body paragraph in your paper. From those connections, write a thesis that expresses your discovery about the things you compare and contrast. The thesis is very important because everything you write in your paper must refer back to this main idea. Write an outline for your essay, making notes about which references you use in each section.

Writing Your Essay

Follow your outline when you write your essay. You might find it easier to write the body paragraphs before completing your introduction and conclusion. Per APA style, you must give equal attention to each side. If you’re writing about Coleridge and Wordsworth, you must write about both of their works in each paragraph. Your introduction will end with your thesis, while your conclusion will begin with the thesis and end with any closing remarks about the deductions you made in your paper. Don’t forget to make notes in your paper about which reference you used for information, and you can add in-text citations after your writing is complete. After your essay is finished, write an abstract, which is a short summary of your paper. Put the finishing touches on your paper by adding a title page and reference list.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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