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Writing

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 18, 2020 • 3 min read

Compare and contrast essays examine topics from multiple viewpoints. This kind of essay, often assigned in middle school and high school, teaches students about the analytical writing process and prepares them for more advanced forms of academic writing. Compare and contrast essays are relatively easy to write if you follow a simple step-by-step approach.

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What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

A compare and contrast essay is a type of essay that provides points of comparison between two subjects. True to its name, it shows how the subjects are similar in certain respects and different in others. The essay structure tends to feature body paragraphs that describe the two subjects, before bringing it all together with a final analysis.

What Is the Purpose of a Compare and Contrast Essay?

Compare and contrast essay writing allows you to juxtapose two subjects in the same paper. This means that thesis statements, topic sentences, and descriptive details must cover both subjects. Compare and contrast papers also require critical thinking. To write one, you must go beyond simple descriptive writing to analyze and explain the relationship between your subjects. A good comparison essay can provide information about current events, political candidates, travel destinations, or products.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Like any good essay, a compare and contrast paper must contain a clear organizational structure that gives your most important points their own body paragraphs.

1. Begin by Brainstorming With a Venn Diagram.

The best compare and contrast essays demonstrate a high level of analysis. This means you will need to brainstorm before you begin writing. A Venn diagram is a great visual tool for brainstorming compare and contrast essay topics. A Venn diagram is a set of overlapping circles: One circle shows the characteristics of the first subject, and another circle shows the characteristics of the second subject; an overlapping section between the circles contains characteristics shared by both subjects.

2. Develop a Thesis Statement.

Once you’ve mapped out the similarities and differences between your topics, you will begin to understand the relationship between your subjects. This prewriting process will allow you to develop your thesis statement and your topic sentences. Your thesis statement should function as a road map for your essay.

3. Create an Outline.

After you have spent time with your data, your prewriting process moves on to outlining. A good compare and contrast essay outline follows the standard essay format: introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, conclusion. Remain faithful to your outline as you write. Great outlining distinguishes tight, focused essays from meandering ones.

4. Write the Introduction.

A good introductory paragraph sets the tone for your entire essay. The best introductions start with a hook—such as a rhetorical question or a bold statement. After your hook, introduce the subjects that you will examine in your essay. Your thesis statement should come at the end of the introduction.

5. Write the First Body Paragraph.

Begin with a topic sentence that explains one area of comparison between your first subject and your second subject. For example, if your subjects are two different countries and your paragraph topic is political structure, you can start by broadly describing each country's political processes. You can then devote at least two sentences to how the countries’ politics are similar and two sentences to how they are different.

6. Repeat the Process for the Next Paragraphs.

Comparative essays usually take their subjects through several points of comparison. Therefore, plan on writing at least three body paragraphs that tackle your two subjects from a variety of angles. Link your paragraphs with transition words.

7. Write the Conclusion.

A great compare and contrast essay needs a great conclusion. By this point, you will hopefully have proven your thesis about how your two subjects are both different and alike. Your concluding paragraph is your chance to share any final insights and to reinforce the thesis of your overall paper. Do not introduce brand new information in your concluding paragraph; use it to summarize the entire paper.

8. Proofread.

Your essay is not complete until you've done a careful proofread pass. Make sure each of your subjects gets equal space in the essay. Make sure you take a clear point of view in how the subjects are both similar and different. And, of course, check for spelling, punctuation, and overall clarity.

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