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Meaning Of Comparison And Contrast Essay

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of comparison and contrast in writing.
  2. Explain organizational methods used when comparing and contrasting.
  3. Understand how to write a compare-and-contrast essay.

The Purpose of Comparison and Contrast in Writing

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or both.

The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.

Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

Writing at Work

Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast. Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals.

Exercise 1

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.

  1. Romantic comedies
  2. Internet search engines
  3. Cell phones

Exercise 2

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.

  1. Department stores and discount retail stores
  2. Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
  3. Dogs and cats

The Structure of a Comparison and Contrast Essay

The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  1. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other
  2. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

See Figure 10.1 “Comparison and Contrast Diagram”, which diagrams the ways to organize our organic versus conventional vegetables thesis.

Figure 10.1 Comparison and Contrast Diagram

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table 10.3 “Phrases of Comparison and Contrast” for examples.

Table 10.3 Phrases of Comparison and Contrast

one similarityone difference
another similarityanother difference
likein contrast
in a similar fashionwhereas

Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay

First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample compare-and-contrast essay.

Writing at Work

Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague have to present something at work.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the outlines you created in Note 10.75 “Exercise 3”, and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.

Key Takeaways

  • A compare-and-contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
  • The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
  • The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
  • There are two main organizing strategies for compare-and-contrast essays.

    1. Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
    2. Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.
  • Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.

This is a derivative of Writing for Success by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

A student has to understand how to start an essay first, have complete understanding of what to be writing. In a compare and contrast essay, you discuss equally the comparisons and the differences between two topics or subjects. Comparison or contrast essay are written determining what the comparisons or differences are. Start the paper so that it will be perfect and effective defining which comparisons and differences to emphasis on. A comparison essay records either similarities, or similarities and differences. A contrast essay records only differences.

What is a Comparison Essay?

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The aim of a compare and contrast essay is to examine the differences and/or the similarities of two different topics. Pick two subjects that can be compared and contrasted in a significant way, then you can begin to frame the thesis and work out the paper. Students should critically evaluate any two subjects, finding and pointing out their similarities and/or dissimilarities. If you want to write a considerate and convincing comparison and contrast essay, make a point or serve a purpose. 

Comparison Essaysclarify something unknown or not well understood leading to a fresh insight or an absolute new way of viewing something. Comparison Essays bring one or both the subjects into sharper focus showing that one subject is better than the other but they have to be similar enough to be compared. The same points should be conversed for both subjects; it is not obligatory, however to give both topics the same notch of growth.

Topics to consider when writing Comparison Essays:
  • The careers of two different players
  • The quality of two different cafés
  • Two movies
  • Two stories
  • Two countries
  • Two historical periods
  • Two events

Comparison Essay Structure

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You may be someone who can start an essay with ease; many people find it challenging to even write out an outline before beginning. Bearing in mind the right structure for your essay is one of the essential key facts of success. There are two recommended outlines for a comparison essay:

1.    Point-by-point or alternating pattern
2.    Subject-by-subject or block pattern

Sticking to a recommended essay structure is the only way to appropriately outline and write it, without mistakes paragraph by paragraph from the introduction to conclusion.The order in which points are introduced in the introduction is the order in which one should introduce them in the essay. It’s always good to have a frame work completed before beginning to write an essay. Knowing how to start a compare and contrast essay is the first step to writing an attention-grabbing essay that will keep readers involved all the way to the end.

Structure of a Comparison Essay Alternating Pattern
Introduction ⇒ Comparison Point 1 ⇒ Comparison Point 2 ⇒ Comparison Point 3 ⇒ ConclusioIn Alternating pattern you will need to successively compare and contrast each of the comparisons and differences in the given subjects:
  1. In the introduction state the thesis
  2. Discuss both the subjects together for each point of comparison and contrast
  3. In the conclusion restate the thesis and shortly summarize the essay
Structure of a Comparison Essay Block Pattern Introduction ⇒ Subject 1 → Comparison Point 1 → Comparison Point 2 → Comparison Point 3 ⇒Subject 2 → Comparison Point 1 → Comparison Point 2 → Comparison Point 3 ⇒ Conclusion In Block pattern also known as "subject-by-subject comparison" separates the body of the compare and contrast essay in two parts. The first part of the body will be dedicated to the first subject, while the significant other will be focused around the second subject:
  1. In the introduction state the thesis
  2. Discuss the first subject
  3. Discuss the second subject
  4. In the conclusion you restate the thesis and shortly summarize the essay

Writing a Compare/Contrast Essay

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Before determining how many paragraphs or sections to break the essay into, first find out approximately how long the essay is going to be. Depending on the topic, there may be many ways of planning the paragraphs. Once you decide on the length of the essay, a student must determine how the paragraphs are going to be split into various topics. Is it going to have four paragraphs an introduction, a paragraph on the first topic, a paragraph on the second topic, and a conclusion? Or five paragraphs an introduction, the similarities between the two subjects, the differences between the two subjects, and a conclusion?  

Another important thing to consider is the audience. Differentiate if you’re writing for a Grade Five goer or are you writing for college professors? The audience will mainly affect the tone and voice of your essay, as well as the sentences, words, phrases, and grammar used throughout it. 

The Introduction

The introduction of an essay is very important. It gives the reader first impression of the comparison essay’s script. The introduction should lure readers into reading the essay, ensure you start out robust. You may begin by stating one motivating fact about one of the topics, or by asking a question that will be answered later in the essay. Use interesting ways to lead into your topic as the introduction will introduce general outline of the essay.

Give a brief historical analysis of the topic to help readers for a better understanding. Twitch from a little story or an anecdote that leads the reader into the topic. Use a surprising statement something revolting, ecstatic or even appalling. "Dropping" the name of an eminent person usually gets the reader's attention. State straight what your essay is going to be about, simple and clearly. Remember first impression counts! Grab that reader’s attention.

The Body

Every great essay starts with a great brainstorm of ideas. Begin by writing down every bit of information you have on the paper, ensuring, that you are keeping the two topics or subjects unconnected from each other. The differences in the topics are fairly evident, but pick out similarities, dig a little deeper. What is it that you know about your subjects? What are you going to need to research further? When researching, try to find information that may not be common. 

  • State the point
  • Provide supportive details
  • Use suitable transitions for comparison and contrast

Begin by saying the whole thing you have to say about the first subject that is planned to be discussed, then move on and make all the points about the second subject. You may wish to talk about one point of comparison or contrast at a time. There are no hard or fast rules about forming a comparison/contrast essay, of course. Just be sure that your audience can easily tell what’s going on! Keep in mind that the last point made is the one you are leaving your reader with. Spend most of the essay discussing how the points are similar to or different from the ideas about the second.

The following words may be helpful to you in beckoning your intentions:

like, similar to, also, similarly, likewise, unlike, again, compared to, yet, while, even though, in contrast, in like manner, nevertheless, contrasted with, on the contrary, in the same way, at the same time, however, although, still, but, conversely, regardless, despite, on the one hand … on the other hand.


The conclusion should cover the entire essay and not leave any unfinished business. Whatever you told readers you were going to express about all through your essay, make sure you write a brief summary of it in the conclusion. Once you have the outline of the essay, the rest will fall in place. You’ll find that starting a compare and contrast essay is easier than you may have imagined. Whether you’re a learner or a professional, you’ll find valuable info that will help you become more succinct! If you’re looking for more ways to improve your writing skills, sign up with TutorVista for online tutoring on excellent essay writing.

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