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2010 Comparative Essay Template

The Compare-and-Contrast Essay

by Owen Fourie

We do it all the time. We compare and we contrast virtually everything that occupies our attention. It helps us to make choices between one thing and another, whether to have beefsteak or chicken, tea or coffee, watch a movie or take a nap. As long as we have to make choices, we are comparing and contrasting. Ordinarily, it is quickly done and driven largely by our desires at any particular moment.

The same process is in operation when we are faced with a choice between two alternatives on a more complicated level where we need information about each alternative before an intelligent choice can be made. We look closely at their similarities as we compare them, and we also note their differences as we contrast them.

Do the spadework

The compare-and-contrast essay is not difficult to write if you do the spadework first. Depending on your choice of topic and your knowledge of the things involved, you might or might not have to do some research. Normally, students elect to deal with things that are familiar to them to avoid spending time in research.

That is fine if you can put together a properly organized and well-reasoned paper in which your reader is given accurate information on which to base a wise decision. Some degree of research should be undertaken, though, even if it is to check only a few facts to be sure that what you are stating is valid.

If you have an inquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge and a desire to find out more about things that are new to you, you would have no problem doing the research and writing your compare-and-contrast essay. In the process, you will have expanded your knowledge. Whatever you choose to write about for this exercise, you have to be sure that you have done the spadework.

Two different methods that can be used to arrive at the same conclusion

Having established this basic need for this type of essay, you now have to make a decision: What form is your essay going to take? There are two ways to format your compare-and-contrast essay: One way is the block method; the other is the point-by-point or feature-by-feature method. Whichever one you choose will determine how you construct your outline.

By the word “feature” is meant any aspect, quality, facet, or characteristic of the persons, things, or ideas being compared and contrasted.

Block Method

Introduction:

  • What are the two objects being compared and contrasted?
  • What is your reason for comparing and contrasting them?
  • What is your purpose in comparing and contrasting them?
  • Thesis statement.

First Body Paragraph:

  • Object A: All the features of Object A;
  • Facts and examples or tests, experiments, and findings;
  • Do not include any information about Object B.

Second Body Paragraph:

  • Object B: All the features of Object B;
  • Facts and examples or tests, experiments, and findings;
  • Do not include any information about Object A.

Third Body Paragraph:

  • Note the similarities as you compare Object A and Object B.

Fourth Body Paragraph:

  • Note the differences as you contrast Object A and Object B.

Conclusion:

  • Sum up in terms of a major similarity and a major difference;
  • Point out the advantage of one and the disadvantage of the other;
  • Come to your preference and a paraphrased restatement of your thesis;
  • Leave the option open for your readers to make their own decision.

Point-by-Point (Feature-by-Feature) Method

Introduction:

  • What are the two objects being compared and contrasted?
  • What is your reason for comparing and contrasting them?
  • What is your purpose in comparing and contrasting them?
  • Thesis statement.

First Body Paragraph:

  • First feature:
  • Compare Object A and Object B (similarities);
  • Contrast Object A and Object B (differences).

Second Body Paragraph:

  • Second feature:
  • Compare Object A and Object B (similarities);
  • Contrast Object A and Object B (differences).

Third Body Paragraph:

  • Third feature:
  • Compare Object A and Object B (similarities);
  • Contrast Object A and Object B (differences).

Conclusion:

  • Sum up in terms of a major similarity and a major difference;
  • Point out the advantage of one and the disadvantage of the other;
  • Come to your preference and a paraphrased restatement of your thesis;
  • Leave the option open for your readers to make their own decision.

In both methods, more than one paragraph can be devoted to each section if necessary.

The compare-and-contrast essay can be applied to virtually any topic you can name from the mundane to the lofty, from dishwashing liquids to Newtonian Physics and Quantum Physics, from iPad and MacBook to William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. If you know your facts, have a penchant for one or the other, and choose your method, you can put together an essay of this sort.

What is your experience with writing compare-and-contrast essays? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? Which method do you prefer to use, and what are your reasons for using it? What are your thoughts about using this type of essay as an opportunity to learn something new? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2010 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


What is a comparative essay?

A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare

  • positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
  • theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
  • figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
  • texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamletand Macbeth)
  • events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)

Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.

Make sure you know the basis for comparison

The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.

  • Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
  • Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.

Develop a list of similarities and differences

Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.

For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.

The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.

Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences

Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:

  1. Differences outweigh similarities:

    While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.

  2. Similarities outweigh differences:

    Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.

Come up with a structure for your essay

  1. Alternating method: Point-by-point patternIn the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For instance, a comparative essay on the French and Russian revolutions might examine how both revolutions either encouraged or thwarted innovation in terms of new technology, military strategy, and the administrative system.
    AParagraph 1 in bodynew technology and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 2 in bodynew technology and the Russian Revolution
    AParagraph 3 in bodymilitary strategy and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 4 in bodymilitary strategy and the Russian Revolution
    AParagraph 5 in bodyadministrative system and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 6 in bodyadministrative system and the Russian Revolution

    Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.

    When do I use the alternating method? Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.

  2. Block method: Subject-by-subject patternIn the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block method on the French and Russian revolutions would address the French Revolution in the first half of the essay and the Russian Revolution in the second half. If you choose the block method, however, do not simply append two disconnected essays to an introductory thesis. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
    AParagraphs 1–3 in bodyHow the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation
    BParagraphs 4–6 in bodyHow the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation

    When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:

    • You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
    • Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
    • You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.