Compare and contrast essays are usually assigned to students because they can encourage critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and organized writing. A comparison and contrast essay should approach a topic in a new way, with a fresh view, using the similarities and differences between two topics or two perspectives on just one.
Part 1 of 3: Brainstorm Your Topic Ideas
Step 1. Understand the structure of a comparison and contrast essay
Most of these essays focus on one or both topics, leading to a new way of looking at something or showing that one topic is better than the other. To compare and contrast effectively, your essay must create new connections or distinctions between the two topics.
If your instructor has already given you a topic, you may need to contrast two things that fall into the same category, but are different from each other. For example, cats and dogs are animals, but they are different in many ways. The pro-life view of abortion and the pro-choice view of abortion might fit into the same category of a human rights issue, but they are very different perspectives or positions
Step 2. Make a list of similarities and differences
Do this on a piece of paper or a new document from a word processor. Create two columns for the similarities of each topic and another two for the differences between them. For example, create two separate lists for the similarities between cats and dogs, and two for the differences between these animals.
- Try to write as many similarities and differences as you can imagine. For example, cats and dogs are domesticated animals. However, cats have a different temperament than dogs and are known as house pets while dogs need to constantly walk and play outside.
- Think of at least one or two significant differences and similarities between the two topics. For example, a comparison and contrast between the right to abortion could lead to significant notes such as the following: the pro-life view states that fetuses are fully formed human beings and is often based on religious beliefs, while the pro-choice view states that fetuses are undeveloped eggs and are often based on scientific beliefs.
- To focus on your list, choose categories (or possible supporting points for your document) to rank the similarities and differences between the two topics. For example, in the case of the abortion right issue, you could choose from the following categories: legal details, women's rights, scientific stance, and religious beliefs. You can then separate each item on the list into those categories.
Step 3. Create a Venn diagram with your topic
Take a piece of paper and draw two large overlapping circles, one for each theme or item. In the central area where the two circles overlap, include the common features of both elements. Assign each of the areas that do not overlap. In them, you can list the characteristics that make the themes different. Be specific when listing the words or phrases for each topic or each perspective within the same topic.
- Once you've listed 10-15 differences and 5-7 similarities, circle the most important items on each list. Then match at least three opposite elements of one circle with three of the other.
- Go through the list and look for three different categories that describe these characteristics. For example, in the case of the abortion right issue, you might have "scientific studies of the fetus" on the pro-choice side and "belief in the life of the fetus" on the pro-life side. One possible category could be the debate on the life of a fetus.
Step 4. Answer the typical questions
It answers the questions journalists often ask: who? What? Where? When? Why? and how? Apply these basic questions to your topic to get an idea of each topic or perspective.
- If you are comparing and contrasting two historical periods or events, you might ask the following: When did it occur (dates and duration)? What happened or changed during each event? Why are they significant? Who were the important people involved? How did the events occur and what consequences did they have later in the story?
- If you are comparing and contrasting two ideas or theories, you might ask the following: What were they about? How did they originate? Who created them? What is the backbone, claim, or goal of each theory? How do theories apply to situations, people, things, etc.? What type of evidence is used to support each theory?
- If you are comparing and contrasting two works of art, you might ask the following: What does each work of art describe or represent? What is your tone or atmosphere? What topics do they address? Who created them? When were they created? How do creators describe their own works of art? Why do you think works of art were created that way?
- If you are comparing and contrasting two people, you might ask the following: Where does each come from? How old are you? Why are they known (if they are)? How do they identify themselves in terms of gender, race, class, etc.? Is it related to each other? What does each of them do? Because they are interesting? What are the distinctive features of each of them?
Step 5. Consider all the gaps in your knowledge or research
Your instructor may ask you to do in-depth research on a complex topic, such as abortion rights, or you could write the essay from a perspective based solely on your opinion, such as why you love cats the most. than dogs. Once you are done with the brainstorming, you should be able to identify the aspects of the essay that you may need to read or do more research on whether your topic is academic or based on current events and social issues.
Your instructor may also ask you to discuss more than one similarity or difference between the two topics or perspectives. Identify any gaps in your knowledge and be prepared to conduct an investigation so that you can better compare and contrast the two topics in your essay
Part 2 of 3: Create an outline
Step 1. Create a thesis statement
Your comparison and contrast essay thesis will help you create a focused argument that will serve as a roadmap for both you and your reader. Try to be specific and detailed rather than vague and general.
- Your thesis should point out the main similarities and differences of both topics. For example: "Cats and dogs are considered ideal and domesticated pets, but their temperaments and breeds differentiate them."
- Your thesis should also answer the question "So what? Why would anyone care about the positives and negatives of having a cat or dog?" A reader might also wonder why you chose to talk about cats and dogs, and not other domesticated pets like birds, reptiles, or rabbits. Your thesis statement will be much stronger if you address these questions, leading to a more robust essay.
- The revised thesis could look like this: “Cats and dogs are considered ideal and domesticated pets, and have been shown to be more popular than other domesticated animals, such as birds or rabbits, but lower care requirements and the particular temperament of cats makes them better pets for a variety of households. " A more concise thesis that allows you a more open discussion of both options could be the following: “Both cats and dogs are excellent domesticated pets, but an appropriate choice will depend on the lifestyle, the economy and the living conditions of the owner.”.
Step 2. Organize your document using the block organization method
In this method, each paragraph in your essay will address only one topic and point out the shared characteristics or aspects that you thought about during the brainstorming stage. The organization for this method is as follows:
- Introduction: presents the general topic, then the two specific topics. Finish with your thesis, which addresses what will be covered in the essay.
Expansion Paragraph 1: Begins with the topic sentence of topic 1. For example: "Cats are easier to keep and are cheaper to care for compared to dogs."
- Introduction to aspect 1: lifestyle, with at least two details. For example, the fact that it is not necessary to watch them during the day and that it is easier to take care of them if the owner travels or is not frequently at home.
- Introduction to aspect 2: cost, with at least two details. For example, the lower cost of food and health in cats and how they are less likely to cause damage to the owner's home.
- Introduction to aspect 3: accommodation, with at least two details. For example, the fact that cats do not take up much space and that they are less intrusive, since they do not need daily walks or constant games.
- End the paragraph with a transitional sentence.
- Development Paragraph 2: It will have the same structure with three aspects and two supporting details each.
- Development paragraph 3: you can follow the same structure as the previous paragraphs or you can develop the comparison made in them. You can use scientific data, comments from the general public, or personal experience. For example, you may have been in a position where you had to compare and contrast the adoption of a dog or a cat and made a decision based on your lifestyle, your finances and your living conditions. This could serve as a personal experience to back up your previous arguments.
- Conclusion: Contains a summary of the main points, a rethinking of the thesis, an evaluation of your analysis, and any future developments that may redirect your comparison and contrast to one topic rather than the other.
Step 3. Use a point-by-point structure
In the point-by-point method, each paragraph contains the arguments for only one aspect of both topics. The organization for this method is as follows:
- Introduction: presents a general topic, then the two specific topics. Finish with your thesis, which addresses what will be covered in the essay.
Expansion Paragraph 1: Begins with the topic sentence for aspect 1. For example: "Cats are better suited to the owner's lifestyle and finances."
- Introduction to Topic 1, Aspect 1: Cats, along with two supporting details in the plot. For example, the fact that it is not necessary to monitor them during the day and that it is easier to take care of them if the owner travels or is not frequently at home.
- Introduction to topic 2, aspect 1: the dogs, together with two contrasting details for the previous argument. For example, the fact that dogs are pack animals and should not be left alone for long periods of time, and how difficult it can be to find someone to take care of them when the owner is away.
- End the paragraph with a transitional sentence.
- Development paragraph 2: it will follow the same structure, with a discussion of topic 1 and topic 2 in relation to aspect 2. For example: “Cats are cheaper to keep and care for”. There should be two supporting details for each topic.
- Development paragraph 3: it will follow the same structure, with a discussion of topic 1 and topic 2 in relation to aspect 3. For example: “Cats need less space than dogs”. There should be two supporting details for each topic.
- Conclusion: Contains a summary of the main points, a rethinking of your thesis, an evaluation of your analysis, and any future developments that could redirect your comparison and contrast to one topic rather than the other.
Part 3 of 3: Write an Introduction
Step 1. Be assertive and clear
Avoid apologizing to your reader for saying that you are not an expert on both topics or that your opinion does not matter. Don't start with a phrase like "IMHO …" or "Maybe I'm wrong, but I think …". Instead, start your introduction confidently, keeping in mind your thesis statement and the essay outline you created.
- You should also avoid announcing your intentions in a direct and formal way. For example, omit statements such as "In this document, I will discuss …" or "The purpose of this essay is …".
- Instead, your reader should be able to perceive the purpose of your essay through the first two sentences in the opening paragraph.
Step 2. Create an attention grabber for your first sentence
This attention grabber can help you immediately engage the reader, especially if the topic is bland or complex. Use the following starting points to create your attention grabber:
- An interesting or surprising example: it could be a personal experience of when a cat proved to be a better pet than a dog, or a scientific study demonstrating the differences between dogs and cats.
- A provocative quote: It could be from a source you used for your essay or one that seems relevant to your topic.
- A vivid anecdote: An anecdote is a very short story that carries a moral or symbolic weight. Think of an anecdote that can be a poetic or intense way to start your essay. You can also review the research you did for your essay and find a worthwhile anecdote.
- A thought provoking a question: Think of a question that will make your reader think and engage with your topic. For example: "You always wanted a cat but ended up having a dog in your teens?"
Step 3. Review the introduction at the end of the essay
Another technique is to write a temporary introduction, with the thesis statement, and then revise or rewrite it at the end of the essay. If you feel confused by the introduction because you are not sure what you are going to discuss in detail or what form your main argument will take, write the introduction at the end.