Definition and Importance
It is common knowledge that analytical writing develops thinking skills. A true professional and any educated person must be capable of noticing distinctive and similar features of various entities, whether they relate to art, history, literature, exact sciences, etc. That’s why a compare and contrast essay is a frequent type of assignment encountered by US students, regardless of whether they are in high school, college, or university.
This type of essay should help readers reach a critical decision on any given matter. It could compare/contrast two (or more) people, literature characters, attitudes, phenomena, objects, products, services, problems, historical periods, events, theories, methods, etc. Normally, such essays focus both on both similarities and differences of two compared/contrasted entities, but they can also be fed on listing either similarities like comparing essay or differences like contrasting essay.
Structure of Compare and Contrast Paper
Like with other essay types, writing a compare and contrast essay involves making sure that paper has the following recognizable sections/ elements:
Introduction – this section would typically mention why we should bother comparing these entities, what the role of this comparison is in the greater scheme of things, or why a critical decision on this matter is important.
Thesis – it makes an arguable statement summarizing writer’s position that is later supported throughout the essay.
Main body – this section lists evidence supporting it with citations. The length of paper/ number of paragraphs depends on how many criteria are analyzed/compared/contrasted. Normally, there are two ways to organize information:
- into two distinct blocks, where one block describes similarities between compared/contrasted objects or other describes distinct/ unique features
- into an indefinite number of mini-sections, each corresponding to a specific feature being analyzed, both in terms of similarities and differences.
Conclusion - in this section, writers must restate thesis, synthesize key points, provide closing remarks.
References – all used citations are gathered in this section and listed in accordance with an appropriate citation format (APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago are mostly used in US).
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Read also: How to create the best college research paper outline
Steps for Writing Compare and Contrast Essay
If you ask yourself “How to write a compare and contrast essay?”, your common sense might very well offer a general intuition about key steps involved and their order. Below is our attempt to describe these stages:
Precisely define your topic (in case there is no fixed topic). You might discover that the initial topic you had in mind is too broad and for this reason, can’t be used for an efficient comparison. In this case, it needs to be narrowed down to a workable topic (some basic research might be needed). Picking up an overly broad topic is a relatively frequent mistake that can severely decrease the paper’s informational value and utility. One could get inspiration for an inspiring essay by looking up lists of compare and contrast essay ideas on several online resources, but even in this case, double check that chosen topics support meaningful comparisons.
Research the problem. Start by researching subject to get familiar with it – this will directly offer ideas for paper but would also help you understand relative importance of arguments/ pieces of evidence/ sources, etc., so that it doesn’t happen that you only touch subject’s surface without realizing that more solid evidence exists. Make notes while reading so that you can always locate evidence /particular sources and can include these in your essay.
List traits allowing a meaningful comparison of the two entities as well as similarities/ differences along each of these traits (this is normally done in parallel). Use Venn diagrams for organizing these lists – draw two big intersecting circles and in the shared area, list similarities, while in remaining two sections – traits unique to each entity. Alternatively, tables or charts could be used. By the end of this exercise, you are expected to notice prevalence of similarities or differences, to develop a position based on this, and to know what the article’s main message should be.
Thesis development. A thesis typically emerges from researching topic and tends to convey an article’s message in a single comprehensive sentence. For instance, thesis might state that identified similarities are overwhelming when compared to differences. It could also state the opposite, or that these two entities are half similar and half dissimilar. It also reflects on the relationship between entities in light of discovered differences /similarities (it could be for instance, that existing differences actually add value or that, despite being numerous, they do not outshine some select overwhelming similarities).
Choose a structure and create an outline. Normally, one of the two types of structure mentioned earlier would be used (depending on how you want to organize content). Following a chosen structure, start sketching a detailed outline.
Write a draft, then edit. Using an outline for compare and contrast paper, you can start assembling/detailing evidence, supporting it with citations, as well as writing down other sections. It is easiest to first write a thesis along with the body and only then to proceed with conclusions and introduction.
Suitable Sources & How to Choose Them
Of course, one has total freedom in writing but it does not mean that paper should not be supported by sources. Language, as well as style of compare and contrast essay must be formal.
Referencing is best way to prove facts, idea, data, or explain why you support this or that position. It’s required to choose materials that are not more than 5 years old, unless specified. Sources should be credible, better scholarly, from scientific journals or websites. Good sources include books, peer-reviewed articles, official magazines, academic journals, websites ending in .edu, .org, .com. Do not use such sources as Wikipedia, blogs, articles without author and reference page.
Useful Tips For Writing Your Essay
Below are a few tips for a good compare and contrast essay:
- An important prerequisite for making comparisons is to first understand which comparison criteria are most relevant and which ones are less relevant – this helps prioritize them and decide whether they need to be mentioned at all in your contrast or comparison essay. For instance, if you are comparing efficiency of different explosives, color is not a relevant feature to mention. By contrast, if learning to distinguish various explosives is the aim, then color could be very important (along with smell, texture, etc.). This suggests that what features are relevant depends greatly on context and comparison goals.
- Always try associating those paragraphs that are related by meaning (for instance, discussing related features of two products, like color and design, price and availability, voltage and power). This would ensure papers are coherent and made up of a minimum number of continuous semantic blocks.
- Avoid providing just a “dry” list of resemblances and dissimilarities between entities. Always aim to illustrate the significance/meaning of the comparison in order to motivate readers to go through this list of evidence. Mixing in reflections/ interpretations/ judgments/ attitudes (if appropriate) make papers more interesting.
- If you are stuck on reflecting how to start a compare and contrast essay and can’t get things going with the introduction or thesis, feel free to skip directly to the main body, where you may start working with evidence (drawing information from sources). It is very likely that after sifting through much of evidence, strong position would emerge that would, in turn, suggest how introduction/ thesis should be shaped. Try to revise thesis as you go and even when you finish writing. In fact, it is very likely it would need slight adjustments anyway – this could be, for instance, in order to make it more comprehensive or more precise, or to adjust it better to some new evidence you’ve provided.
- If you are free to pick a topic for a comparison paper but don’t have a clue where to start, check out available sources to write a compare and contrast essay – these often list hundreds of ideas grouped by disciplines.
- When writing an outline or draft, a template can greatly simplify your work (it can help both with structure and with formatting).
- Once you choose a certain type of paper structure, follow it consistently, otherwise, readers are very likely to get an unpleasant feeling from a weird transition in the middle of their reading experience.
- When editing or before writing, you might benefit a lot from recalling transitions words and other frequent words used when contrasting (“however”, “although”, “yet”, “still”, “on the other hand”, “conversely”, “nevertheless”, “even though”, “on the contrary”, “by contrast”, “unlike”, “at the same time”, “despite”, “while”) or when comparing (“similarly”, “both”, “regardless”, “also”, “likewise”, “like”, “identically”, “equally”, “alike”, “akin”, “analogous”, “equivalent”, “matching”). Alternating these words wisely would ensure balanced language, avoiding annoying repetitions and sometimes, wordiness.
Benefit from Professional Writing Services
Now you know what is a compare and contrast essay. It’s similar in structure with other types of essays but allows freedom in choosing how to structure the body paragraph (the flow of arguments). Following some intuitive steps while writing (like narrowing down the topic, researching, brainstorming, sketching an outline, writing a draft) but also a series of useful recommendations ensures a smooth procedure and improves outcomes.
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