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10.1: Why Write a Comparison Essay?

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    Comparison/contrast is important because it is a useful tool for critical decision-making. Whether you are buying a new car or choosing a university, it is important to master the art of this critical writing and thinking skill. In writing the comparison/contrast essay, students often engage with the rhetorical strategy because it is an easy genre for them to develop topics and ideas. Since we compare and/or contrast things all of the time, students spend less time struggling to find a topic and more time working on the necessary skills to conquer this kind of paper. In addition, in writing the comparison/contrast, students learn to differentiate between two or more objects seeing how they are similar or how they are different.

    Here are a couple of examples. If a photographer wants a new camera, that person may contrast Canon and Nikon. Or if someone wants a new cell phone, that shopper may contrast Samsung and Apple. In these two examples, the writers would develop criteria for contrasting the two companies and their products, and then based upon their criteria, they would identify which item they would purchase. These are two of the basic examples of how we use compare and contrast every day. Another way we use comparison and contrast is through juxtaposition. Juxtaposition places two items close together to create a specific effect, or so readers or viewers can draw conclusions by comparing their similarities or contrasting their differences.

    Understanding the Basics of Comparison

    First, what is the difference between comparing two items and contrasting two items? If we want to examine the similarities between two items, we compare them. If we want to look at their differences, then we contrast them. Often comparison/contrast explores both similarities and differences. For the purposes of this essay strategy, the term “comparison” will mean looking at both similarities and differences.

    In choosing topics, writers must select item that have a basis of comparison (something that they both share in common) before they can see the similarities and differences between them. For example, one would not compare an apple with a flight attendant. One would not contrast a dog and a peanut. There must be some basis for comparing the two items. One could compare apples and oranges because they are both fruit, or one could contrast Dell computers with Apples because they both are brands of computers. “Fruit” or “computer” would be the basis in comparison for each of these topics.

    To further develop the comparison, consider the following example: The photographer who is contrasting Nikon and Canon is contrasting cameras. But, even that is vague. Writers would want to make sure that they contrasting the same type of camera: two DSLRs with similar qualities: cost, number of pixels, lenses, other miscellaneous items that may be included with the purchase. If contrasting a regular Nikon 35mm film camera with a Canon Rebel DSLR, one would not be able to draw clear conclusions. They are completely different kinds of cameras.

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