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Writing a Comparison/Contrast Essay


(Based on Eschholz and Rosa's Subject and Strategy, Ch. 6)

What is a comparison/ contrast essay?

A comparison/contrast essay points out the similarities and/or the differences between two (or more) objects of the same category. For example, the essay might discuss two different cars, political candidates, vacation spots, or historical time periods.

What is the point?

Writers can use a comparison/contrast strategy for a variety of purposes.

(1) To Inform: The essay simply explains how two things are similar and/or different, such as Greek vs. Roman Mythology.

(2) To Describe Something Unfamiliar: The essay explains something unusual or foreign by comparing it to something more common, such as the Ukraine vs. Texas.

(3) To Evaluate: The essay shows the differences between two things for the purpose of arguing that one is superior, such as the Geo Prizm vs. the Ford Taurus.

(4) To Persuade: The essay tries to change readers' minds about one thing by comparing it to another, such as sending troops to Bosnia vs. sending troops to Vietnam.

What is first?

The first step in writing a comparison/contrast essay--after choosing a topic--is to make a list of possible comparisons. Your goal should be for these comparisons to be interesting, informative, and not obvious. For example, if you are writing about solar energy vs. wind energy, you might come up with the following list: cost, convenience, efficiency, and environmental impact. (Of course you do not need to point out that one uses the sun as an energy source and the other uses the wind.)

How should I set up my essay?

A successful comparison/contrast essay often benefits from rigid organization. Two common ways to organize the essay are point-by-point and block-by-block. For example, in the same essay as above, the paragraphs might be organized point-by-point, as follows:

1. Introduction

2. Cost (first solar, then wind)

3. Convenience (first solar, then wind)

4. Efficiency (first solar, then wind)

5. Environmental Impact (first solar, then wind)

6. Conclusion

 

If you prefer block-by-block organization, the paragraphs might be arranged as follows:

1. Introduction

2. Solar Energy (including cost, convenience, etc.)

3. Wind Energy (including cost, convenience, etc.)

4. Conclusion

 

You must choose the organization that works best for your own paper, and of course your paper might require a different organizational scheme, depending on your content and purpose.

Remember, though, that your job is to make the comparisons and contrasts clear for your reader. Point-by-point and block-by-block organization work well because readers can easily recognize and follow those patterns.

Finally, the introduction should explain what you are comparing, how, and why. For example, in the solar vs. wind energy paper, you might include the following thesis:

Both solar and wind energy are practical alternatives to our current energy sources, but an analysis of cost, convenience, efficiency, and environmental impact shows that solar energy is the preferable option.

With this thesis, the reader can easily understand the paper's content, organization, and purpose.

 

I'm still having trouble.

Comparison / Contrast essays are fun, but can also be difficult.  Stop by the Loudoun Campus Writing Center. 

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