Compare and Contrast Essays

essay_writing1I know several of you are either in Spring Break, approaching it, or just finished it. I found that Spring Break either meant every professor gave me an essay to do or every professor decided to give me a break. No happy mediums here. Unfortunately, since my experience leans towards the former, I thought discussing one of the more popular essay types would be beneficial–Compare and Contrast essays.

Compare & Contrast

Compare and Contrast papers are where you take two or more things and discuss the similarities and differences between them. Topics can range from different books, characters, poems, pieces of art, music, dance, etc. I tend to think these are the easiest papers but a lot of people have a hard time with them because they don’t know how to organize them or whatever else. Let’s go through this beginning to end.

I have my two discussion points. Now what?

Sometimes it’s hard trying to find points to compare and contrast. It’s even harder if you jump right into the paper without preparation. A great way to prepare for a compare and contrast paper is by making a Venn diagram. For those of you who don;t know what that is, I’m including an image:

Venn Diagram

Taa-daa! Ok, so now that you know what one looks like, let’s discuss why this can help you. On the left side, you would put material pertaining to topic 1. On the right side, you would put material pertaining to topic 2. The material on the right and left should CONTRAST. They should be opposite or different in some way. Where the two circles overlap, you put material that is similar in both topics. So for example, if I were comparing a banana and a lemon, I would put “Sweet” in the left side, “Sour” in the right, and “Yellow” in the middle. Even if you don’t like doing outlines, this can be helpful if you have a lot of material to whittle down, or if you’re trying to milk out more material.

Ok, now I know what I’m going to talk about. Now how do I structure my essay?

Structure is really important in a Compare/Contrast essay. Since you’re discussing multiple things, if you do not have a tight structure your essay can turn out to be a really confusing mess. Luckily, most compare and contrast papers follow one structure, so remember the structure, and you’ll be fine!

  • Structure (NOTE: Topic does NOT equal paragraphs. Your sections may take one or MORE paragraphs to complete):
  • Intro: Obvious šŸ˜› If you need help, view my post on intros and conclusions
  • Topic 1: Here you discuss your first topic individually. If we look at my banana/lemon example, I would discuss the banana here. “Bananas are tree fruits…blahblahblah” I would not discuss the lemon here.
  • Topic 2: Here I would transition into the second topic. Generally I’ll find a similarity or something to transition. “Much like the banana, lemons are also tree fruits…” and then go into specifics about the lemon.
  • Topic 1/2.: Finally we discuss both topics. This will take more than one paragraph. At the BARE MINIMUM you will need 1 for compare and 1 for contrast. If your paper is focusing on just comparisonĀ  or just contrast, then your bare minimum will be 1 paragraph, but even so–you’re probably comparing a few things or contrasting a few thing, so you will still need multiple paragraphs.
  • Conclusion

Thoughts:

The most important thing is being confident in your material. If you only know 1 of the topics really well, it will be apparent that the other topic was half-assed. I always tell my students that they need to be fair to both topics in a compare/contrast and give them equal space to be discussed. If you’re not confident about both halves, everyone will know. Once you’re confident in your material, follow the 1, 2, 1/2 structure and you should be on your way to success.

Posted in Academic Advice.

7 Comments

  1. Good job! There’s two ways to organize a compare/contrast essay: the way you mention above and the alternate or “ping pong” method, which does the c/c point by point rather than by source (the “block method”) as you explain here. Ping-ponging sometimes works well for longer c/c essays.

    I’m really enjoying these posts, Kelly!

  2. I’m comparing the Odyssey with The Lord Of the ring: The Return of the kings, I really thing is a little bit difficult and I don’t see any similarity, just difference.

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