A comparison and contrast essay dissects two related ideas. Like any essay, this paper needs a clear thesis, but the body focuses on specific traits that are similar or comparable, and different or contrasting, between the two ideas. The compare and contrast essay is assigned in almost any subject area to encourage students to analyze concepts on a deeper level.
Gather Points to Compare and Contrast
Before you start writing, you need a clear list of points for comparing and contrasting. Use a graphic organizer to track the information. A simple column system is one option, making a column for each idea being compared and writing the traits for each idea in its column. The Venn diagram is another option. To create this organizer, draw two circles next to one another with an overlap of the circles in the middle. This shared area is where you'll write characteristics that are the same. The individual parts of each circle are where you write unique traits for each idea. Refer to the organizers as you write the essay.
Choose an Organizational Format
The two main organizational methods for comparing and contrasting are the block format and the point-by-point format. In the block method, you explain all of the characteristics of the first idea, then switch gears and explain the traits of the second idea. The block format works well if you plan to spend more time on one idea than the other. With the point-by-point format, you alternate back and forth between the ideas, focusing on one point of comparison at a time. When comparing two politicians, for example, you might first look at political party affiliations followed by political backgrounds, and then compare and contrast their positions on key issues. This method draws more attention to the differences between the two topics.
Introduce the Comparison
The introduction sets the stage for the comparison and contrast explained in the body. Your thesis statement introduces the ideas being compared. For example, you could write, "Phonics and whole language methods both teach reading skills, but each method approaches language acquisition from a distinct perspective that influences teaching methodology." The introduction also gives you a chance to reveal your stance. If you're comparing two breeds of dogs, for instance, you might indicate that one breed is better as a family pet because of its characteristics.
Write the Body and Conclusion
Once you've introduced the subject, lay out your specific points using either the block or point-by-point method. Both methods flow better when you transition smoothly from one section to the next. Examples of phrases that emphasize comparisons and help transition include "on the contrary," "conversely," "compared to" and "similarly." Develop each paragraph around a topic sentence that outlines the points presented in that paragraph. All of these topic sentences and points of comparison should fit under the thesis you established in the introduction. State each point in specific terms rather than generic observations. Instead of saying one gym has a better atmosphere than another, for example, you might explain how the better gym offers clean facilities with a wide range of equipment that is arranged to allow ample space and flow of traffic. Conclude the essay with a recap of the thesis statement and reasons the reader should care.