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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Has this ever happened to you?
Professor: Where is your thesis statement?
If so, don’t worry. You’re not the first person to struggle with writing a thesis statement, and you won’t be the last. This part of essay writing has vexed many college students, but luckily, I’m here to show you the ropes.
Almost every college essay you write will require a thesis in one form or another. A compare and contrast essay is no exception.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the finer points of how to write a compare and contrast thesis statement and offer some pro tips and resources for tackling that essay like a boss.
Everything’s an Argument
Every time you sit down to write an essay, try to think of it like an argument. Yes. An argument. Always.
This is important because your thesis is the main argument—the main point—you’re trying to make in your essay.
It’s a claim you make about your topic. Then you spend the rest of the essay backing up that claim with examples, reasoning, and sometimes professional sources that reinforce this claim.
A compare and contrast essay doesn’t always require you to cite sources, though. So let’s just focus on what you can do to write a great thesis and, thus, a great essay.
Think about it this way—if someone handed you this list…
…you would probably wonder why the heck the person just did that. Similarly, your professor wants to see how well you can identify the relationship between two things.
If you write a strong thesis, then you’ll show your professor that your compare and contrast essay has a purpose.
The Compare and Contrast Thesis Statement: Prework
If you’re going to write a strong thesis, you’ll want to make sure you know your approach before going in. Here are some pro tips to help you get started.
Pro tip #1:
Pick topics that interest you. It’s way easier to write about something you like or care about. Need some help with picking a topic? Check out this list of compare and contrast essay topics.
Pro tip #2:
Once you have your topics, try saying the following aloud (and maybe when you’re by yourself so that people don’t look at you funny in the campus library):
“(Topic 1) and (Topic 2) have a lot in common. They also have some differences.”
Then pretend someone just replied with, “So what?”
Repeat this exercise as you write the essay. It will help you reinforce your thesis and make sure that the point you’re making is meaningful.
Every time you start a new paragraph and write a topic sentence that reinforces your thesis, pretend that you’re being asked “so what?” again. Work on answering that question as you continue writing the paragraph.
Though eccentric, both Gandalf and Dumbledore resemble kind-hearted grandfatherly figures when they first appear in the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, respectively.
Your friend says:
You could reply:
Both characters are powerful wizards capable of terrible destruction, but showing them as kind old men humanizes and establishes them as protagonists that the reader can root for rather than fear.
Writing like this makes your essay more meaningful. Keep asking and answering “so what?” and you’ll write a strong essay that keeps reinforcing the thesis.
The Right Tool for the Job
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” thesis that works for any essay. Just like you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail, you’re not going to use an argumentative essay thesis for your compare and contrast essay.
If you’re going to write a solid compare and contrast thesis statement, then you’ll need to make sure you understand the anatomy of this essay. Let’s break down the compare and contrast format, bit by bit, and see how the thesis applies to each part.
Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to settle on your topics before moving forward. It’ll help you visualize how the following can be applied specifically to your topics.
1. Your approach
There are a few common approaches you could take when writing a compare and contrast essay.
Comparing/contrasting two things in the same category that are different somehow.
- Your house vs. a friend’s house
- Your favorite coffee shop vs. Starbucks
- Two types of cars
Comparing/contrasting two things that seem very different but actually have a lot in common.
- Bats and bears (both are mammals and hibernate during the winter)
- Pablo Picasso and Winston Churchill (both were painters)
Comparing/contrasting two things that appear the same but are actually very different.
- Tim Burton’s Batman vs. Christopher Nolan’s Batman
- Any movie and the book it’s based on
Applying the thesis:
Your thesis will be different depending on which approach you use. For example, if you were to compare/contrast two things that seem different, your thesis might look something like this:
While bats and bears appear to have little in common at first glance, they are remarkably similar.
And if you compared/contrasted two things that seem similar, your thesis might look like this:
While Batman is always depicted as the famous “Caped Crusader” in each Batman film, this character is wildly different depending on the film’s director.
Another pro tip:
To create a stronger thesis, be specific! For a compare and contrast essay, use several of your main points in your thesis to show the reader where your argument is going.
While bats and bears appear to have little in common at first glance, they are remarkably similar in their species classification and hibernation habits.
2. Your method
A compare and contrast essay is usually written using one of two methods.
Method #1: Subject by subject
This method is almost like writing two smaller essays in one. One half of the body paragraphs would cover the first subject, and the other half would cover the second subject.
While Batman is depicted as the “Caped Crusader” in either film series, Tim Burton’s Batman of the 1990s is far more comical, wittier, and less intimidating than Christopher Nolan’s early-2000s version.
To support this thesis, you would break down the things that are different between these two “subjects,” one at a time.
Tim Burton’s Batman (first half of body):
- Witty and less intimidating
- The style reflects 1990s-era American culture.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman (second half of body):
- Intimidating/fierce depiction
- The style reflects early 2000s-era American culture.
Method #2: Point by point
This method allows you to break down your topics by each point of similarity or difference. For each body paragraph, you support the thesis by writing about each topic at the same time.
Let’s use the same thesis from above and see how this method is organized in defending that compare and contrast thesis statement:
- The tone (comical vs. serious)
- Tim Burton’s Batman
- Christopher Nolan’s Batman
- The character (witty vs. intimidating)
- Tim Burton’s Batman
- Christopher Nolan’s Batman
- Time period effect on style
- Tim Burton’s Batman
- Christopher Nolan’s Batman
Either one of these methods can work for your compare and contrast essay. They’re both good structures to follow when trying to support your thesis.
And remember—the thesis is only as strong as the evidence that supports it, so choosing your method before you start writing is a good idea.
3. Know the process
By now, you’re probably starting to get a good idea of how you might put together this essay, but keep in mind that strong organization is key. It’s always smart to do the following steps before you even think of sitting down to type your first draft.
I know, I know—this is just something your professor tells you to do. But it really works! Many students get frustrated when writing and switch topics halfway through because they didn’t work out what they really wanted during a good old-fashioned brainstorming sesh.
My advice: Grab a snack and a cup of coffee. Stare out the window. Let the ideas start flowing in, and think about what you might have to say about them. Jot down some notes. You’re off to a good start.
Need some help with brainstorming? Read 6 Prewriting Strategies to Get Your Essay Rolling.
Really? Another step? You bet! I’ve seen a lot of students get stuck by the second paragraph because they didn’t plan ahead. Trust me—outline each paragraph of your essay. It’ll be so much easier to actually write the essay if you’re following a roadmap you’ve made for yourself.
Need some more help with outlining? Read This Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Will Help You Beat Writer’s Block.
Don’t write the compare and contrast thesis statement…yet
That’s right. Unless you’re 100% certain of what you’re going to say, your thesis could change often as you write.
Instead, jot down a few ideas of what your thesis might be. Use these as a guide, but don’t sweat it if your thesis ends up being way different than what you had originally planned.
Try writing your body paragraphs first. These are the most important parts of your essay, and when you’ve finished a draft, you can look back and see which of your main points are the strongest.
A thesis should only be one to two sentences long, so you’ll have to consolidate your ideas into this short space—this one argument.
Did you know that Kibin has a neat tool that can help you build that thesis if you get stuck? Give it a try: Kibin Thesis Builder.
The intro and conclusion can be written after you’ve hammered out the body paragraphs. Just make sure you’re following the correct organization for essay writing:
- Intro and thesis
- Body paragraphs 1, 2, 3, etc.
- Conclusion (restate thesis)
Now that you know how to write a compare and contrast thesis statement, get ready to blow your professor out of the water with a rockin’ essay. Say it with me now: this essay is going to be awesome.
And it will be. Just make sure you focus on all we’ve covered in this post to get started, and you’ll do great!
- The thesis is your main argument.
- Choose a topic you’re interested in.
- Answer “So what?”
- Know your approach.
- Subject by subject or point by point?
- Brainstorm, outline, draft.
As a final bit of advice, if your professor gives you instructions for how to organize and write this essay, follow them as closely as possible. If these instructions are in a workbook, make sure you’ve read and understand them. Ask your professor for clarity if necessary.
Also make sure you read some good compare and contrast essay examples to familiarize yourself with this essay style.
And of course, when you’ve finished working on that first draft, Kibin editors are standing by to help you make it shine.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.