One of the widely misunderstood kinds of writing is the compare and contrast essay. People do not know what to do with a writing task asking them to compare a set of things. It is for this reason that you need to understand what this kind of essay means and how to handle it.
- What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
- Bases for Compare and Contrast Essays
- Listing Differences and Similarities
- Crafting a Thesis Statement
- Structuring Your Essay
- When Do You Use Block Method?
- When Do You Use the Point-by-Point Analysis?
- Concluding Your Essay
- The Actual Writing of a Compare and Contrast Essay
What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
This is a writing task that asks you to compare at least two or more things. It requires you to bring out the similarities and differences between or among a set of things. Some of the things you can be asked to compare include professions, events, literary works, models, and theories.
Most of the times you will only be asked to compare but do not get confused. You are required to bring out the similarities and differences. This is the most important aspect of this essay that should always ring in your mind before you begin to handle it.
Bases for Compare and Contrast Essays
There are two sources of comparative essay questions that you can base your paper on:
- A question provided for you: once you read a given text you may find a question asking you to compare some aspects you have read. This may be two different characters, assuming this is a novel. Referring to the sources given you should compute a list of differences and similarities and write them into a cohesive and holistic piece.
- A question you develop on your own: as you go over something, the urge to compare it with another may arise. This will drive you into developing a comparative analysis unearthing common and uncommon things between the 2 things. Your reference points are the sources of the 2 or more subjects you are comparing.
Listing Differences and Similarities
Once you have established your basis of comparison it is the time you come up with a list of differences and similarities. For example, if you are comparing two texts of Shakespeare, Let’s say Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. You should compile a list of similarities and differences. Some of them may touch on time, characters, theme, plots, setting etc.
Your list should be as comprehensive as possible. You do not leave out anything that might be of significance that readers might notice you missed. Just note that not everything you list here will be going in your essay. You will filter those points and remain with only what is important for your work.
Crafting a Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement will be determined by the two things of differences and similarities. If you choose similarities to outweigh your differences then your thesis should be bent towards that direction. On the other hand, if your differences outweigh the similarities then your thesis should be crafted to give that position.
Structuring Your Essay
There are 2 main structures you can use for your essay. Each of them has circumstances that may dictate you use it over the other as you will learn later.
- Block Method (subject by subject approach): this is an AB’ scenario where you do all of A, and once you are done you get to B and do it all. For instance, when comparing the Agrarian Revolution and the Industrial Revolution you will have to handle the former first. Once you are done with Agrarian Revolution it will be the turn for Industrial Revolution.
But just because you are handling each block on its own it does not mean you have to come up with a disjointed essay. In fact, the two should make one coherent essay. A should make reference to B and vice versa. Using such a technique will lead to higher level of critique, continuation, and cohesion; which are all very important to creating a seamless essay. The aim here is to give each subject adequate room to be analyzed but not forgetting to incorporate comparison with the other subject.
When Do You Use Block Method?
There are situations that dictate the use of the block method. They include:
- When comparing more than two subjects. As opposed to 2 subjects, more of them cannot be accommodated in a back-to-back comparison. They have to be broken into independent parts.
- When comparing subjects that are not closely related: in this situation, it is hard to come up with differences and similarities that can be put into a direct vis-à-vis.
- Where the points of Block A are used to build on the points in block B
- Alternating Approach (Point-by-Point Analysis)
This situation uses an “ABABAB” scenario. This means that a point on A is followed by a point on B and so forth in that order of alteration. For instance, a point on Agrarian Revolution will be followed by another on Industrial Revolution. This goes on until the list you developed earlier is exhausted.
When Do You Use the Point-by-Point Analysis?
In most cases, the alternating method is used in comparison essays. One reason for this is because it does a better job by juxtaposing the points of one subject against the other. It is easier to pick out the differences and similarities from this format than having to find them as it is with the block method.
The best scenario to use this approach is when you have 2 subjects that are closely related. It means you will be able to find points that correlate or contradict each other.
Concluding Your Essay
Whether you are using the block or alternating method for your essay, you will have to conclude it in the same way. The conclusion should merge both of the subjects and come up with a resolution. This should wrap up your paper into one ending that puts to rest the comparative analysis. You should be able to pick one side over the other and let readers know of your decision. There is no neutral ground here so you must make a conclusive ending on what side your views fall to. It is only a few essays that end in a stalemate and in most cases they are considered inconclusive.
The Actual Writing of a Compare and Contrast Essay
- Introduction to Your Essay
The introduction is the opening statement to your essay. It explains your topic in length including all areas to be covered. It also carries the thesis statement, which states the specific purposes of your paper. So the introduction is more that just as simple sentence that announces your paper.
The introduction has 3 functions:
- Lead sentence to announce the main topic. This is the core purpose of this part. It is the first sentence that introduces your topic. It acts as the catching point to interested readers. It should be creatively written to ensure that it captures the entire idea of the essay and passes it to potential readers. Based on it, your essay can be judged as good or bad.
- Identifies the subjects to be compared and contrasted. You should now give the readers your subjects. You need to specifically identify them and give a brief statement on their differences and similarities. Do not go so much into depth since the rest will be covered at the body stage.
- Carries the thesis statement: this is the part that finishes off your introduction in style. It gives the direction your paper will be taking. It is the pointer of what the major idea is for your paper. And as you will see later it contributes to how you will end your essay.
- The Body
Here now you get into the depth of your subjects. It is the time you lay it all bear for your readers. But first, you have to identify the method you are going to use. Is it a block or alternating method? You remember what we said about when to use each of them so that will not be a problem now. It is also important to decide whether you are going to start with similarities or differences (it does not matter what comes first but conventionally similarities come first).
Paragraph 1: state your first difference or similarity. This is like the lead sentence of your paragraph. Once you have made it clear it is not the time to add details on your point. You need to be clever with how you bring forth the details. Start with the strongest and end with the least. One point can take up to 3 details but not more.
Do not give so much on each point that you blur what is most important. As long as you feel you have covered the most important information you should close your paragraph and move to the next point.
Paragraph 2: state your second difference or similarity. You now know the drill so you should go on and add adequate details. Do not leave anything important unsaid. The transition between paragraphs needs to be flawless. They should be interconnected and form a coherent whole piece.
You can add on paragraphs until you have reached the required length of your essay. Essays come with instructions on how many pages you should write. You should spread your points well until you reach that requirement.
You have come all the way to here. Now you are in the homestretch and your essay will be done shortly. But not before you give it a deserving conclusion.
The conclusion is an easy part to come up with. In fact, you already started working on how you will wrap up things with your thesis statement. Your conclusion will cover 3 major areas. Let’s have a look at them.
- Summarizing your main points: your body of text focused on the main points and it is the time you provide a resounding summary for that. You should take note that this is much more than a simple summary. This one will synthesize all the key points in your entire essay. It will bring out what you covered in each subject. You will revisit the differences and similarities and take a stand. If you think their differences take the day then you should show this at this point.
- Evaluating your paper: this is a very important part of your paper. It reestablishes the purpose why you had to write the essay. You have already taken a final stand with your essay but what does that mean? This is the question you will be answering at this point. You should explain what it means if the differences between your subjects stand taller than their similarities. On the other hand, if the similarities take the day then you have to explain to the reader what this means to the subjects.
- A significance of what you have concluded: if you have established that there are differences between your subjects, it is time to tell the significance of such differences. Why should people want to know what you have concluded? This should have been your major purpose for taking all the pain to write the essay. Readers want to know it and you should give it to them in plain truth.
- Adding References
It is hardly true that you relied on your knowledge to come up with your essay. If so then the paper will merely be your personal thoughts that may not mean much to the readers. During your research, you must have come across resources written by other people that you used to add details to your work. That is not a crime; all good writers borrow a few things from their peers.
That is why you have to add a reference section after the conclusion. This serves as an acknowledgment to using other people’s work to bolster your points. With that done, you should go over your essay and correct any errors. If you can get someone else to proofread it the better it is for you. Once that is done your work is ready for the targeted readers.