How To Start Writing A Comparison And Contrast Essay

Comparison and contrast are processes of identifying how ideas, people, or things are alike (comparison) and how they are different (contrast). Although you have probably been writing compare/contrast papers since grade school, it can be a difficult form to master.

Such assignments require you to move beyond mere description by thinking deeply about the items being compared, identifying meaningful relationships between them, and deciding which qualities are most significant. This process involves evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing your findings and presenting them in a meaningful, interesting, and logical way.

Structure

There are two general formats for compare and contrast papers:

1. The block, divided, or whole-to-whole format

Evaluates Subject A in its entirety and then Subject B in its entirety. This format can result in two separate papers, joined by an awkward transition. Follow the tips below to develop a seamless and unified paper using the block format:

  • Provide a clear introduction and thesis that not only spells out the major similarities and differences you will be discussing but that answers the question, “So what? ”
  • “Pepper” references to both topics throughout the paper, where appropriate.
  • Link the two sections with a strong transition that demonstrates the relationships between the subjects. Remind the reader of your thesis, summarize the key points you have made about Subject A, and preview the points you will be making about Subject B.
  • Conclude the paper by summarizing and analyzing the findings, once again reminding the reader of the relationships you have noted between Subject A and Subject B

2. The alternating, integrated, or point-by point comparison

Explores one point of similarity or difference about each subject, followed by a second point, and so on. Some pointers:

  • Provide a clear introduction and thesis that not only spells out the major similarities and differences you will be discussing but that answers the question, “So what? ”
  • To avoid creating a glorified list, synthesize and organize the material in a logical way.
  • Conclude the paper by summarizing and analyzing the findings, once again reminding the reader of the relationships you have noted between Subject A and Subject B.

Brainstorming

When we first begin thinking about a subject, we generally start by listing obvious similarities and differences, but as we continue to explore, we should begin to notice qualities that are more significant, complex, or subtle. For example, when considering apples and oranges, we would immediately observe that both are edible, both grow on trees, and both are about the size of a baseball. But such easy observations don't deepen our knowledge of apples and oranges. An interesting and meaningful compare/contrast paper should help us understand the things we are discussing more fully than we would if we were to consider them individually.

Selectivity: Sharpening the Focus

As you approach a compare/contrast paper, ask the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the assignment?
  • Which of the similarities and differences that I have observed are relevant to the assignment and the themes of the course? In an economics course, it might be appropriate to consider how the markets for apples and oranges have changed, which is more popular fruit and why, which is more expensive to produce, and so on. In a humanities course, it might be fruitful to consider why we seem to have so many more cultural references to apples than to oranges.
  • What is the most interesting basis of comparison for this topic? Of the similarities and differences that I have noted, which are obvious or merely descriptive, and which are significant? Which will lead to a meaningful analysis and an interesting paper?

Recognizing the Compare/Contrast Assignment

Some assignments use the words “compare, ” “contrast, ” “similarities, ” and “differences. ” Others may not use these terms but may nevertheless require you to compare and/or contrast. Still others may require comparison and/or contrast as only part of the assignment. Some examples:

  • Select two fast food chains and discuss the approaches they have used in gaining entry into the global marketplace.
  • How do the authors we have studied thus far define and describe racism?
  • Choose a theme, such as fellowship, faith, or hope, and consider how it is treated in the works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
  • The analysis in Ronald Rogowski's book Commerce and Coalitions ends in the 1980s. Extend his analysis to two countries, Canada and a country of your choice, from 1990 to 2000. Using Rogowski's theory, predict how the change in exposure to international trade should affect political conflict in Canada and the country you chose.
  • Analyze the various data security options available to online businesses and recommend one to your boss, Sally Simple, President of Simply Simple, Inc.
  • I want to invest in satellite radio. Which is the better choice: Sirius or XM?

Transitional Markers to Indicate Comparison and Contrast

Transitional markers are words or phrases that show the connections and relationships among ideas. They are often placed at or near the beginning of a sentence or paragraph. There are many such words, but here are some of the most useful terms:

Words to indicate comparison: in comparison, similarly, likewise, in the same way, parallel to, correlate, identically, akin to, consistent with, also, too, analogous to, correspondingly

Words to indicate contrast: in contrast, however, on the other hand, nevertheless, although, counter to, on the contrary, conversely, rather than, in opposition to, opposite of Sample Introductory Paragraph

Below is a sample of an introduction from a literary compare and contrast paper written by student Kate James: (Some of the terms she uses to indicate comparison and contrast are in boldface.)

Because America itself is still a relatively young nation, its poetry, too, lacks the years of history and growth that have defined the voices of other nations. However, within the past century, American poetry has developed into a distinctive and accomplished art of its own. The creation of this poetic voice is often attributed to Walt Whitman, who has been coined “the father of American poetry.” His revolutionary style and untraditional subject matter, exemplified in his renowned poem “Song of Myself,” have paved the way for future generations of American writers. Furthermore, his unique use of the line and breath has had a great influence on many poets' own work, particularly the writing of the more contemporary poet Allen Ginsberg, whose controversial poem “Howl” echoes many of the characteristics of Whitman's verse. However, while the form and content of “Howl” may have been influenced by “Song of Myself,” Ginsberg's poem signifies a transformation of Whitman's use of the line, his first-person narration, and his vision of America. As Whitman's sprawling lines open outward in the voice of a cosmic speaker who creates a positive view of America, Ginsberg's poem does the opposite, using long lines that close inward to mimic the suffocation and madness that characterize the vision of America that he presents through the voice of a prophetic speaker.

*Thesis Statement

After she developed the introduction and thesis, Kate had to decide which format would be most effective for organizing her argument and proving her thesis. One way to decide which structure to use is to create outlines that visually organize the information:

Sample Block Format Outline

  1. Introduction/thesis
  2. Poets' Use of Line
  3. Voice of First Person Speaker
  4. Vision of America
  5. Discussion/analysis
  6. Conclusion

Sample Integrated Format Outline

  1. Introduction/thesis
  2. Whitman's “Song of Myself”
    • Use of Line
    • Voice of First Person Speaker
    • Vision of America
  3. Ginsberg's “Howl”
    • Use of Line
    • Voice of First Person Speaker
    • Vision of America
  4. Discussion/analysis
  5. Conclusion

In this case, Kate decided that the integrated format would be more effective because it allowed for the side-by-side analysis of passages that illustrated the three primary qualities that she noticed in the poems.

Sample Paragraph in the Block Format

In the following paragraph from “American Space, Chinese Place, ” writer Yi-Fu Tuan fully discusses space in America before turning to an analysis of place in China:

Americans have a sense of space, not of place. Go to an American home in exurbia, and almost the first thing you do is drift toward the picture window. How curious that the first compliment you pay your host inside his house is to say how lovely it is outside his house! He is pleased that you should admire his vistas. The distant horizon is not merely a line separating earth from sky, it is a symbol of the future. The American is not rooted in his place, however lovely: his eyes are drawn by the expanding space to a point on the horizon, which is his future. By contrast, consider the traditional Chinese home. Blank walls enclose it. Step behind the spirit wall and you are in a courtyard with perhaps a miniature garden around a corner. Once inside his private compound you are wrapped in an ambiance of calm beauty, an ordered world of buildings, pavement, rock, and decorative vegetation. But you have no distant view: nowhere does space open out before you. Raw nature in such a home is experienced only as weather, and the only open space is the sky above. The Chinese is rooted in his place. When he has to leave, it is not for the promised land on the terrestrial horizon, but for another world altogether along the vertical, religious axis of his imagination.

--from DiYanni, Robert and Pat C. Hoy. Frames of Mind. Thomson Wadsworth. 2005. p. 260

Sample Paragraph in the Alternating Format

In the book Oranges, author John McPhee wanted to help readers appreciate the difference between Florida and California oranges. Here's a sample paragraph from the book:

An orange grown in Florida usually has a thick and tightly fitting skin, and is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first. California oranges are light in weight and have thick skins that break easily and come off in hunks. The flesh inside is marvelously sweet, and the segments almost separate themselves. In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement. The differences from which these hyperboles arise will prevail in the two states even if the type of orange is the same. In arid climates, like California's, oranges develop a thick albedo, which is the white part of the skin. Florida is one of the two or three most rained-upon states in the United States. California uses the Colorado River and similarly impressive sources to irrigate its oranges, but of course irrigation can only do so much. The annual difference in rainfall between the Florida and California orange-growing areas is one million one hundred and forty thousand gallons per acre. For years, California was the leading orange-growing state, but Florida surpassed California in 1942, and grows three times as many oranges now. California oranges, for their part, can safely be called three times as beautiful.

--from DiYanni, Robert and Pat C. Hoy. Frames of Mind. Thomson Wadsworth. 2005. p. 260

Fran Hooker & Kate James, Webster University Writing Center, 2007

It’s paralyzing. Moving forward seems impossible, and self-doubt creeps in. You feel like a lost puppy, unsure of what to do next.

When writer’s block strikes, it can be doggone demoralizing. But the good news is that an outline is your best friend for getting organized and ready to write.

In this post, I’ll show you how to develop a compare and contrast essay outline that lets you kick writer’s block to the curb and craft a structurally sound essay about anything.

Let’s start with making sure everyone’s on the same page about what makes up a compare and contrast essay. Ready?

What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

In the simplest terms, a compare and contrast essay takes two subjects (i.e., objects, events, people, or places)—closely related or vastly different—and focuses on what about them is the same or what’s different or focuses on a combination of similarities and differences.

It’s not, however, just a simple comparison – that’d be too easy, right?

It must serve a larger purpose by doing one of the following:

  • State something unknown.
  • Clear up a misunderstanding.
  • Show that one thing is superior to another.
  • Lead to a new way of doing/seeing/understanding something.
  • Argue a point with supported facts.

There are several formats for writing a compare and contrast essay, but I’ll use point-by-point organization to make my outline.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline: Point-by-Point Organization

The point-by-point comparison focuses on comparing and contrasting one aspect about both subjects at the same time.

It’s typically easier for readers to follow this structure. It provides a clear, easy-to-follow structure. To keep things simple, I’ll use a 5-paragraph essay structure to create a compare and contrast essay outline.

The outline consists of three parts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. The first difference between subjects
    2. The second difference between subjects
    3. The third difference between subjects
  3. Conclusion

Now that you have the basic structure down, let’s break down the components using my two favorite four-legged beasts: Molly and Morgan.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline: Introduction

The introduction is where you introduce your topic both in broad and specific terms. It’s also where make your thesis statement. The thesis statement provides the main point of or ideas within your essay.

The introduction has three key elements. I’ll go through each separately.

1. Introduction to the main topic

To introduce your main topic, you ideally want to start with a hook sentence and then detail the specifics of the topic itself.

Comparing and contrasting Morgan and Molly, my opening lines to introduce the topic might read something like this:

“Do opposites really attract? The law of attraction says they do, but is this phenomenon limited to humans? It’s definitely not, nor is it limited to romantic relationships. Dogs with drastically different personalities and habits form close attachments all the time.”

 2.Specific subjects to compare and contrast

Next you need to identify who or what you’re comparing and contrasting specifically under the main topic and theme.

The next lines in my introduction might look something like this:

“The dogs in my household, while similar in many ways simply because they’re dogs, are vastly different creatures. Molly is a 70-pound bully who likes to pounce, lick, and paw at canines and humans until she gets her way. Morgan, on the other hand, is a 50-pound sweetheart who is content with whatever is going on. Despite their differences, the two dogs are strongly attached to one another.”

3. Thesis statement

Finally, to wrap up your intro, you want to express the specific aspects you’re comparing and contrasting. This provides a clear idea of where your essay is going.

My thesis statement focuses on three specific habits/characteristics of my rambunctious dogs. It might be something like this:

“Most notably, Molly and Morgan differ in how they accessorize, what their favorite toys are, and how they deal with downtime, yet the two have a strong bond as ‘sisters’ who cuddle at every opportunity.”

Whew! The introduction is often the toughest part. It’s where you’ll lay out the structure of your essay. (For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to write the introduction last.) Since that’s done, we’ll move on to Part B, the body paragraphs.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline: The Body Paragraphs

Since I’m focusing on just three aspects about Molly and Morgan, I’ll have three body paragraphs. Under the point-by-point organization for a compare and contrast essay outline, you’ll need as many paragraphs as the number of aspects you’re comparing and contrasting.

Each paragraph will have a topic sentence focused on the aspect you’re comparing and contrasting. Each paragraph will also have two details about each subject as they relate to the aspect:

Body paragraph #1

The topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence of my first paragraph might look like this:

Aspect #1 – Topic sentence: “The first difference between Molly and Morgan is the way they accessorize; while both are budding fashionistas, each of the girls has her own personal style.”

If you can ignore their cuteness (yup, I’m biased, but you have to admit they’re pretty adorable, right?), we’ll dive into the two details for each dog. My detail sentences might look like this:

Subject #1: Molly

  • Detail #1: “Molly takes the sporty approach and is perfectly content with her owner’s baseball cap firmly on her head.”
  • Detail #2: “Her choice in headwear is indicative of the brute, in-your-face interactions with her sister and owners.”

Subject #2: Morgan

  • Detail #1: “On the other hand, Morgan prefers the downhome, classic country look of a bandana.”
  • Detail #2: “Her accessory preference speaks to her humble, attention-loving and passive demeanor.”

See how easy crafting a paragraph is when you break it down?

You could write paragraphs in your sleep now, right? No? Okay, let’s do the same thing for the second and third body paragraphs.

Body paragraph #2

Aspect #2 – Topic sentence: “Another difference between the girls is their favorite toys; even though they are both equally protective of their favorites, their choices contradict their personalities.”

Subject #1: Molly

  • Detail #1: “Molly prefers to cuddle up with her favorite stuffed animal (which changes over time as she eats them).”
  • Detail #2: “She often can be found protectively cuddling the stuffed animal in her sleep and making sure her owners give it plenty of love, too, by pushing the drool-covered plush in their faces at any opportunity.”

Subject #2: Morgan

  • Detail #1: “Conversely, Morgan prefers the traditional rawhide bone.”
  • Detail #2: “She will growl, snarl, and bare teeth to protect it from anyone (even her owners!).”

Two body paragraphs down – only one to go. If you’re struggling, just take a breather.

Take your time, and work through the outline one section at a time if you need to.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your compare and contrast essay outline doesn’t have to be either (unless you’re a procrastinator).

Body paragraph #3:

Now we’ll look at my third body paragraph. The final body paragraph wraps up the last aspect identified in the thesis. Mine might be constructed something like this:

Aspect #3 – Topic Sentence: “The final difference between the two pups is how they deal with downtime, more specifically, their ability to just chill while ignoring (or not ignoring) distractions.”

Subject #1: Molly

  • Detail #1: “Molly isn’t content unless she’s getting attention, even if that attention is simply having a warm human body next to her; she’s frequently found flopping on the couch looking pensive and bored out of her pay-attention-to-me-now-or-I-will-lick-your face-endlessly mind.
  • Detail #2: “While it’s sometimes possible to catch a photo-op with her sandwiched between pillows wearing a pleading look, breaking out the camera usually produces a face-licking attack before the shot is even focused.”

Subject #2: Morgan

  • Detail #1: “Morgan, however, handles downtime differently. Perfectly content without constant attention, Morgan takes it as an opportunity to curl up and catch some ZZZs.”
  • Detail #2: “A heavy sleeper who snores and runs in her sleep while dreaming of chasing squirrels, Morgan is happy sleeping for hours and is undisturbed by camera flashes and clicks.”

That’s it. The body paragraphs are complete. Not so bad, was it?

While I had three body paragraphs, your outline might have only two. Or it might have five. It depends on the number of points you’re comparing and contrasting.

Now we’re ready to wrap things up with the conclusion.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline: Conclusion

Hot diggity dog! If you’ve made it this far, you’re in the home stretch—developing the conclusion of your compare and contrast essay outline.

The conclusion is the easiest part. You’ve already set the stage for it with your thesis statement and body paragraphs. It’s just a matter of putting it all together while focusing on three areas:

1. Summary of main points

First, you want to summarize your main points. It’s more than a simple summary, though. You want to synthesize your thesis with the information in your body paragraphs.

I might summarize with a few sentences like this:

“In conclusion, these three aspects clearly show how Molly and Morgan go about their doggy lives in different ways. While Molly likes to accessorize with baseball caps, cuddle with stuffed animals, and sit around looking bored, Morgan prefers rawhide bones, relaxing solo, and sleeping contently whenever she can.”

 2. Evaluation

Next, you want to evaluate what you’ve discussed or talk about possible future developments.

This is where you show the greater purpose of your topic. Your conclusion should answer one question: What does it all mean?

As you work on this part, keep in mind that your conclusion should bring things full circle to your introduction.

My compare and contrast essay outline requires just focusing on an evaluation.

My evaluation sentences might look something like this:

“In some ways, the differences parallel their personalities—Molly as a brute and Morgan as a sweetheart. The differences also show how both dogs sometimes stray from their normal behavior, notably through how they interact with their favorite toys. Taken collectively, however, their differences don’t stop the law of attraction from coming into play. Though they like a different look, like to play with different toys, and like to relax differently, they adore each other and cuddle up together at every opportunity.”

 3. Significance

Finally, you need to show the significance of the differences. What was your end goal in showing the differences? (Hint: Refer back to your introduction and thesis statement if you’re stuck here.)

I might use one sentence to show the significance, tie everything back to the intro, and create finality all in one swoop by writing something like this:

“This shows that opposites really do attract—even among canines.”

Download Template for Your Own Compare and Contrast Outline

Have your own compare and contrast essay to write? Make the process easier, and banish writer’s block by downloading this compare and contrast essay outline in MS Word or PDF format to get started.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Template (.doc)

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Template (PDF)

Whether you’re ready to write or still flushing out your topic, using an outline keeps you on-task. It keeps you on-topic to create a logical, easy-to-follow format.

Additional Help for Your Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

Still struggling? Try reading some completed example compare and contrast essays. If that doesn’t work or you’re still feeling a bit unsure, read more about this type of essay.

Finally, don’t forget about editing and proofreading! Even the best writers make mistakes or have difficulty recognizing weak points in their own writing.

If you’re aiming to put your best paw—err draft—forward, have one of our talented Kibin editors edit your essay for grammar, logic, clarity, and flow.

Write on, and best of luck!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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