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Compare/Contrast Essays

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Roane State Community College

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Roane State Community College

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Types of Papers: Compare/Contrast

To write a compare/contrast essay, you’ll need to make NEW connections and/or express NEW differences between two things.  The key word here…is NEW!

  1. Choose 2 things that could go in the same category, but are also quite different. Good choices might be:
    • Basketball & Football (both sports)
    • Horses & Cats (both animals, but different in many ways)
    • Writing & Singing (both art forms, but different in many ways)
  2. Gather your ideas by writing down characteristics of each thing.  Note the differences and similarities between them.
  3. Ask yourself these important questions before you begin writing your draft:
    • Does my instructor want me to compare AND contrast, or am I only being asked to do one of those things?  
    • Are these 2 things similar and/or different, in at least one meaningful way?
    • Do I know enough about my topic to write an effective compare/contrast essay about it?

Does my instructor want me to compare AND contrast, or am I only being asked to do one of those things?

Some instructors prefer that you only write about the differences between two things, while others want you to focus on explaining the similarities as well.  Either way, you’ll need to make sure that your thesis statement reflects your instructor’s expectations.
For example, if I wanted to write about Social Networking sites, I’d need to write different thesis statements depending on my compare/contrast assignment.  

Sample thesis statement for contrast paper:  In terms of social networking sites, Facebook focuses on presenting your daily life to others, whereas MySpace allows you to focus more on demonstrating your personal style.

Sample thesis statement for compare/contrast paper:  While both Facebook and MySpace allow you to meet other users who have similar interests, only MySpace allows you to demonstrate your personal style.       

Are these 2 things similar and/or different, in at least one meaningful way?

If you want to write a successful compare/contrast essay, you’ll need to avoid writing about really obvious differences and similarities.  For example:

  • We all know that horses are larger than cats.
  • We also know that basketball teams contain less players than football teams.

Tell us something we don’t know (or might not notice)!

It would be better to write about how sensitive both horses and cats are to human needs and emotions.  You could also suggest that though both basketball and football require a lot of teamwork, basketball players are expected to be a lot more versatile than football players.

You don’t have to be a genius to write an interesting compare/contrast essay–you just have to look at ordinary things in a new way!

Do I know enough about my topic to write an effective compare/contrast essay?

Unless you’re being asked to do some research as part of your compare/contrast project, make sure that you choose 2 things that you feel comfortable discussing, at length.

Your instructor may ask for multiple similarities and differences–make sure you’re prepared to write a well-developed, meaningful essay on a topic that you know well before you get started!   

Organizing Your Compare and Contrast Paper

There are two primary ways to organize your compare and contrast paper.

Chunking: placing all of the information for each individual subject in one place (chunk), and then using similarities as transitions.

Here’s a sample outline:

  1. Jane is distinct because…
  2. Jane is similar to Alice in these ways
  3. Alice is distinct because…

Piecing: giving pieces of the information for each individual subject in each paragraph—arranging the information by topic rather than by subject.

Here’s a sample outline:   

  1. Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s appearances
  2. Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s backgrounds
  3. Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s interests

Sample Papers

  • Student Sample: Shades of Being Human
  • Student Sample: McDonald’s and Fox’s Diner

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101 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

For Educators

101 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

Great Ideas for Essays

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Illustrated depiction of 9 compare and contrast essay topics


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Melissa Kelly
Updated July 12, 2018

Compare and contrast essays are taught in school for many reasons. For one thing, they are relatively easy to teach, understand, and format. Students can typically understand the structure with just a short amount of instruction. In addition, these essays allow students develop critical thinking skills to approach a variety of topics.

Following is a list of 101 topics for compare and contrast essays that you are welcome to use in your classroom. As you look through the list you will see that some items are academic in nature while others are included for interest-building and fun writing activities.

  1. Apple vs. Microsoft
  2. Coke vs Pepsi
  3. Renaissance Art vs. Baroque Art
  4. Antebellum Era vs. Reconstruction Era in American History
  5. Childhood vs. Adulthood
  6. Star Wars vs. Star Trek
  7. Biology vs. Chemistry
  8. Astrology vs. Astronomy
  9. American Government vs. British Government (or any world government)
  10. Fruits vs. Vegetables
  11. Dogs vs. Cats
  12. Ego vs. Superego
  13. Christianity vs. Judaism (or any world religion )
  14. Republican vs. Democrat
  15. Monarchy vs. Presidency
  16. US President vs. UK Prime Minister
  17. Jazz vs. Classical Music
  18. Red vs. White (or any two colors)
  19. Soccer vs. Football
  20. North vs. South Before the Civil War
  21. New England Colonies vs. Middle Colonies OR vs. Southern Colonies
  22. Cash vs. Credit Cards
  23. Sam vs. Frodo Baggins
  24. Gandalf vs. Dumbledore
  25. Fred vs. Shaggy
  26. Rap vs. Pop
  27. Articles of Confederation vs. US Constitution
  28. Henry VIII vs. King Louis XIV
  29. Stocks vs. Bonds
  30. Monopolies vs. Oligopolies
  31. Communism vs. Capitalism
  32. Socialism vs. Capitalism
  33. Diesel vs. Petroleum
  34. Nuclear Power vs. Solar Power
  35. Saltwater Fish vs. Freshwater Fish
  36. Squids vs. Octopus
  37. Mammals vs. Reptiles
  1. Baleen vs. Toothed Whales
  2. Seals vs. Sea Lions
  3. Crocodiles vs. Alligators
  4. Bats vs. Birds
  5. Oven vs. Microwave
  6. Greek vs. Roman Mythology
  7. Chinese vs. Japanese
  8. Comedy vs. Drama
  9. Renting vs. Owning
  10. Mozart vs. Beethoven
  11. Online vs. Traditional Education
  12. North vs. South Pole
  13. Watercolor vs. Oil
  14. 1984 vs. Fahrenheit 451
  15. Emily Dickinson vs. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  16. WEB DuBois vs. Booker T. Washington
  17. Strawberries vs. Apples
  18. Airplanes vs. Helicopters
  19. Hitler vs. Napoleon
  20. Roman Empire vs. British Empire
  21. Paper vs. Plastic
  22. Italy vs. Spain
  23. Baseball vs. Cricket
  24. Jefferson vs. Adams
  25. Thoroughbreds vs. Clydesdales
  26. Spiders vs. Scorpions
  27. Northern Hemisphere vs. Southern Hemisphere
  28. Hobbes vs. Locke
  29. Friends vs. Family
  30. Dried Fruit vs. Fresh
  31. Porcelain vs. Glass
  32. Modern Dance vs. Ballroom Dancing
  33. American Idol vs. The Voice
  34. Reality TV vs. Sitcoms
  35. Picard vs. Kirk
  36. Books vs. Movies
  37. Magazines vs. Comic Books
  38. Antique vs. New
  39. Public vs. Private Transportation
  40. e-Mail vs. Letters
  41. Facebook vs. Twitter
  42. Coffee vs. an Energy Drink
  43. Toads vs. Frogs
  44. Profit vs. Non-Profit
  45. Boys vs. Girls
  1. Birds vs. Dinosaurs
  2. High School vs. College
  3. Chamberlain vs. Churchill
  4. Offense vs. Defense
  5. Jordan vs. Bryant
  6. Harry vs. Draco
  7. Roses vs. Carnations
  8. Poetry vs. Prose
  9. Fiction vs. Nonfiction
  10. Lions vs. Tigers
  11. Vampires vs. Werewolves
  12. Lollipops vs. popsicles
  13. Summer vs. Winter
  14. Recycling vs. Landfill
  15. Motorcycle vs. Bicycle
  16. Halogen vs. Incandescent
  17. Newton vs. Einstein
  18. Go on vacation vs. Staycation
  19. Rock vs. Scissors

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10.7 Comparison and Contrast

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

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

Exercise 3

Create an outline for each of the items you chose in Note 10.72 “Exercise 1” and Note 10.73 “Exercise 2” . Use the point-by-point organizing strategy for one of them, and use the subject organizing strategy for the other.

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 .

  • Home
  • Table of Contents

    • Publisher Information
  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Writing

    • 1.1 Reading and Writing in College
    • 1.2 Developing Study Skills
    • 1.3 Becoming a Successful College Writer
    • 1.4 Introduction to Writing: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 2: Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?

    • 2.1 Sentence Writing
    • 2.2 Subject-Verb Agreement
    • 2.3 Verb Tense
    • 2.4 Capitalization
    • 2.5 Pronouns
    • 2.6 Adjectives and Adverbs
    • 2.7 Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
    • 2.8 Writing Basics: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 3: Punctuation

    • 3.1 Commas
    • 3.2 Semicolons
    • 3.3 Colons
    • 3.5 Apostrophes
    • 3.6 Parentheses
    • 3.7 Dashes
    • 3.8 Hyphens
    • 3.9 Punctuation: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 4: Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?

    • 4.1 Commonly Confused Words
    • 4.2 Spelling
    • 4.3 Word Choice
    • 4.4 Prefixes and Suffixes
    • 4.5 Synonyms and Antonyms
    • 4.6 Using Context Clues
    • 4.7 Working with Words: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 5: Help for English Language Learners

    • 5.1 Word Order
    • 5.2 Negative Statements
    • 5.3 Count and Noncount Nouns and Articles
    • 5.4 Pronouns
    • 5.5 Verb Tenses
    • 5.6 Modal Auxiliaries
    • 5.7 Prepositions
    • 5.8 Slang and Idioms
    • 5.9 Help for English Language Learners: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 6: Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content

    • 6.1 Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content
    • 6.2 Effective Means for Writing a Paragraph
    • 6.3 Writing Paragraphs: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 7: Refining Your Writing: How Do I Improve My Writing Technique?

    • 7.1 Sentence Variety
    • 7.2 Coordination and Subordination
    • 7.3 Parallelism
    • 7.4 Refining Your Writing: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 8: The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?

    • 8.1 Apply Prewriting Models
    • 8.2 Outlining
    • 8.3 Drafting
    • 8.4 Revising and Editing
    • 8.5 The Writing Process: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 9: Writing Essays: From Start to Finish

    • 9.1 Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement
    • 9.2 Writing Body Paragraphs
    • 9.3 Organizing Your Writing
    • 9.4 Writing Introductory and Concluding Paragraphs
    • 9.5 Writing Essays: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 10: Rhetorical Modes

    • 10.1 Narration
    • 10.2 Illustration
    • 10.3 Description
    • 10.4 Classification
    • 10.5 Process Analysis
    • 10.6 Definition
    • 10.7 Comparison and Contrast
    • 10.8 Cause and Effect
    • 10.9 Persuasion
    • 10.10 Rhetorical Modes: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 11: Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?

    • 11.1 The Purpose of Research Writing
    • 11.2 Steps in Developing a Research Proposal
    • 11.3 Managing Your Research Project
    • 11.4 Strategies for Gathering Reliable Information
    • 11.5 Critical Thinking and Research Applications
    • 11.6 Writing from Research: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 12: Writing a Research Paper

    • 12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper
    • 12.2 Developing a Final Draft of a Research Paper
    • 12.3 Writing a Research Paper: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 13: APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting

    • 13.1 Formatting a Research Paper
    • 13.2 Citing and Referencing Techniques
    • 13.3 Creating a References Section
    • 13.4 Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Style
    • 13.5 APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 14: Creating Presentations: Sharing Your Ideas

    • 14.1 Organizing a Visual Presentation
    • 14.2 Incorporating Effective Visuals into a Presentation
    • 14.3 Giving a Presentation
    • 14.4 Creating Presentations: End-of-Chapter Exercises
  • Chapter 15: Readings: Examples of Essays

    • 15.1 Introduction to Sample Essays
    • 15.2 Narrative Essay
    • 15.3 Illustration Essay
    • 15.4 Descriptive Essay
    • 15.5 Classification Essay
    • 15.6 Process Analysis Essay
    • 15.7 Definition Essay
    • 15.8 Compare-and-Contrast Essay
    • 15.9 Cause-and-Effect Essay
    • 15.10 Persuasive Essay
    • Please share your supplementary material!

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