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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
A Paragraph 1 in body new technology and the French Revolution B Paragraph 2 in body new technology and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 3 in body military strategy and the French Revolution B Paragraph 4 in body military strategy and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 5 in body administrative system and the French Revolution B Paragraph 6 in body administrative 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.
- 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.
A Paragraphs 1–3 in body How the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation B Paragraphs 4–6 in body How 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.
Compare the feeling you get when you earn an A on a paper to how you feel when you get a D on a paper. There’s really no comparison, is there?
My goal in writing this post is for you learn more about compare and contrast essays, so you can skip that wretched feeling of getting a D and instead feel that euphoric “I earned an A and want to break out my happy dance” feeling.
Check out these examples that not only make cool comparisons but also help you see what a good comparison essay looks like. (You can do your happy dance later.)
Compare and Contrast Essay Resources
Before you start any paper, you need to have an understanding of how to write it. If you need a bit of a refresher on the basics of a compare and contrast essay, check out these two posts.
If you have a pretty good sense of how to write a compare and contrast paper but need a topic before you can even begin to think about writing, here are 49 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics to Help You Get Started.
Need some more topic inspiration? Browse through some additional examples of comparison essays.
If you’ve got the how and the topic mastered but aren’t sure how to get started, This Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Will Help You Beat Writer’s Block. Or give these additional tips and handy worksheets a try.
Ready to see two comparison essay examples that make cool comparisons? Keep reading!
2 Comparison Essay Examples That Make Cool Comparisons
Comparison essay example #1: A Comparison of Disney Princesses
The first essay focuses on basic comparisons of two common Disney princesses. My comments within the paper highlight both strengths and areas in need of improvement.
Before I address the content of the essay, let’s talk about the title. It would be an understatement to say that this title lacks creativity. Learn how to write a better title by reading How to Write Good Essay Titles That Are…Good.
(*Click images below to enlarge)
Comparison essay example #2: Hinduism and Buddhism Compare and Contrast Essay
This paper focuses on a comparison of Hinduism and Buddhism. Like the previous essay, the title of this paper needs work. This essay, though, provides a solid comparison of the two religions.
Remember, when writing a compare and contrast essay, it’s impossible to compare every aspect. The key to a successful essay is choosing two or three key points to compare. Here, the writer successfully compares rebirth and the steps one must take in each religion to escape rebirth.
As with the previous example, I’ve included a few comments about what this writer does well and what the writer might do to improve this paper.
(*Click images below to enlarge)
The Finishing Touches
It’s your turn to shine and use all that you’ve learned to write an impressive, even awe-inspiring compare and contrast essay. Remember the strong (and weak) elements highlighted in the comparison essay examples to keep you on the right path.
These resources might help you avoid some of the shortcomings highlighted in the comparison essay examples:
If, by chance, you’re studying poetry and need a little more help, check out these two posts:
Also try using the compare and contrast thesis statement builder.
Once your paper is complete, let our Kibin editors polish your paper to perfection.
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