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10.4: Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay

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  • 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.

    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.

    Examples of Essays

    • “Neat People vs. Sloppy People,” by Suzanne Britt
    • “Battling Clean-Up and Striking Out,” by Dave Barry
    • “Everyday Use,” by Alice Walker
    • “Friending: Ancient or Otherwise,” by Alex Wright
    • “A Brother’s Murder,” by Brent Staples
    • “Homeward Bound,” by Janet Wu
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