What is a comparison and contrast essay?
Two very common terms often used to describe an essay of this nature are similarities and differences. Essentially, when formulating a comparison and contrast essay your main objective is to carefully analyze how two or more things are the same and how they differ.
We compare and contrast all the time; whether through casual conversation or by explaining a concept or idea. In doing so your primary purpose is to either explain or evaluate. For example: you may want to evaluate the performance quality of two products or explain to a child what a cheetah is by comparing it to a more common animal such as a cat or a lion. Other samples include; houses and apartments, personal computers and laptops, and football and soccer.
So where do things get a bit tricky?
Generally speaking, many people find difficulty with two crucial areas:
- Effectively organizing ideas;
- Providing strong support statements.
To hopefully avoid this, below we will thoroughly go through each step of creating a logical and well-written comparison and contrast essay. We will also give special attention to the organization of your paper and applying the proper supports for each topic.
Simple steps for success
1. Prewriting-choose your topic, audience, and purpose.
Topic: Choose two or more topics that can adequately be compared.
*Tip: Do not choose topics that cannot produce a good argument. The topics you choose should be similar in some fashion or form and show marked differences. For example: soccer and football are both professional sports but are played differently and have varying subcultures and audiences. Houses and apartments are both common dwelling places as well but differ considerably with regards to size, cost, and structure.
Audience: Use a language and tone that is appropriate for your audience. Consider whether you are writing for an online audience, print publication or academic entity.
Purpose: A comparison and contrast essay falls under nonfiction expository writing. So overall your writing should be informative. But more specifically, what do you want to achieve by comparing these two or more items?
Important questions to consider
Are you writing to provide helpful information to consumers? For example: people wanting to decide on which vacuum cleaner to purchase. Or are you completing a literature review; analyzing two or more pieces of literature? Are you trying to explain something unfamiliar by way of something familiar? (Think cheetah and cat) And lastly, a more complex approach, are you going to compare two items and then compare them to a greater, larger concept or idea? For example South Africa apartheid versus American slavery; after comparing these two items you would then move on to relating both to broader concept such as universal oppression and systems of degradation.
2. Writing or Drafting-Effective organization and strong support statements.
Here's the fun part. Now that you've carefully selected your topic, audience, and purpose you can begin drafting your essay. There are three main ways to structure a comparison and contrast essay.
This style is self-explanatory. Choose one area or point to analyze for all items and then move on to the next point. For example, with an essay on houses and apartments, your first point may be cost. In this section you will go through the cost differences in renting an apartment versus buying or renting a home. Its generally more expensive to rent a home versus renting an apartment but buying a home may be less expensive later in the long run. This approach is simple and easy to implement. After you've exhausted this point move on to the next one (for this example your next point may be size).
With this approach you will lump all the similarities of the items together and then discuss all of the differences in another section. For personal computers and laptops you would first discuss all the ways that they are the same. Since you can use both items to do just about the same things, your main argument would surface when discussing their differences. Some target areas would be; portable or stationary, cost, storage, screen size and speed.
This last style allows you to fully dissect one topic before moving on to the next one. For example: you could fully discuss all the aspects of soccer, thus completing one subject, and then move on to fully discuss all the aspects of football. The key to this is keeping your subtopics in sequential order. If you start out talking about how soccer originated you must start off the same way in your football section. With this style your concluding paragraph will play a significant role in uniting the two subject matters and providing readers with a sound understanding of both sports.
Providing strong support statements
Your comparison is only as good as the examples you provide. To make your point clear and complete you want to provide the reader with sound examples that fully present the idea or message you are trying to relay. This is done by providing outstanding support statements. Some kinds of support statements include precise examples, accurate statistics and quotes. For example, if you want to support your point that houses are more expensive to rent than apartments you may want to provide exact price quotes from rental listings within the same geographic location.
3. Revising, Editing, and Proofreading-The final stages of your essay.
Revising: Use these six tips to help you revise each paragraph of your paper; make sure your ideas are properly communicated, your paper is well-organized, your voice is apparent (your feelings), your vocabulary is diversified and appropriate, you have good sentence fluency (how well your sentences flow, adding transitions when necessary), and your conventions are up to speed (proper grammar usage).
Editing & Proofreading
: Read your paper a few times to fix common mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar.
The very last step in creating your essay
is to publish your work. A comparison and contrast essay may be presented in various formats. Outside of academic settings, you can also look to publish your work in the consumer or comparative review sections of magazines and newspapers.