Best Way To Start Off A Compare And Contrast Essay

Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).

In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.

Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.

Frame of Reference. This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.

Grounds for Comparison. Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison, lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.

Thesis. The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:

Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.

Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.

Organizational Scheme. Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.

  • In text-by-text, you discuss all of A, then all of B.
  • In point-by-point, you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.

If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.

You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.

Linking of A and B. All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast (similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner).

As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand, feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.

Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

How to Write a Contrast Essay

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A contrast essay is not as complicated as you think. It is about comparing and contrasting two subjects, talking about how such things are alike and how they are different. It is a way of indicating both the similarity and dissimilarity that go along with two different things. This type of essay is said to be one of the most required forms of writing in college. However, most students fail to follow how this kind of essay should be written. So to help you out with this, here are the most helpful tips on how to write a contrast essay.

How To: Contrast Essay Writing

TIP 1: Brainstorm on a contrast essay topic

When you are brainstorming on a topic, it will be better to choose subjects that have basic similarities. In other words, you don’t have to think of two entirely unrelated things just because you are contrasting.

TIP 2: Choose an appropriate structure for a contrast paper

There are two types of structures which you can follow to effectively present your contrast essay to your readers.

The introduction should state your thesis statement. It should then be followed by the first paragraph of the body, discussing the first subject matter, while the next paragraph should cover the second subject alone, without touching subject #1. After discussing two different subjects independently, you can now analyze them together in a separate paragraph. The generalization of your thesis statement should then be discussed in the conclusion. This section should also comprise your own knowledge on both subjects, and should reaffirm that your thesis statement has been proven.

Your thesis statement should still be included in the introduction. The first section in the body of your essay should then tackle all the comparisons or similarities of two subjects, while the next section should only discuss their contrasts or differences. And in the conclusion, the thesis statement should be restated and the summary of your points must be presented.

TIP 3: Stick to the format of your contrast essay

In writing  a contrast essay, you have to pay close attention to the structure or format you are following to keep track of the flow. In this way, your readers will not be confused on what you are trying to point out.

TIP 4: Pay heed to intro and conclusion of your contrast paper

Remember that your introduction must set the track which your readers can follow. You can also use authorial quotations in the body of your essay to validate your arguments. And the conclusion must be the summarized section of the whole essay, which also includes your own findings.  

Most Frequently Asked Questions About Compare and Contrast Essay Writing

What Does it Mean to Compare and Contrast?

To compare something means to look for and identify similarities between two things. To contrast is to look for differences.

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Paragraph?

A compare and contrast paragraph can be written in two ways:

  1. Block method where you explain the first subject area and then the other.
  2. Point-by-point method where you explain both subject areas together. For example, a square has four sides, all of which are equal in length. A rectangle also has four sides but only two sides are equal in length.

How to Start a Compare and Contrast Essay?

A compare and contrast essay is written similarly to any other essay with an introduction, body and conclusion. You should start your compare and contrast essay with an explanation or definition of the topic and two subject areas. The rest of the essay will explain the subject areas in-depth.

How to Write a Conclusion for a Compare and Contrast Essay

The conclusion of a compare and contrast essay must be a summary of the following:

  1. The definition of two subject areas
  2. The main similarities between two subject areas
  3. The main differences between two subject areas

How to Compare and Contrast Poems?

You can compare and contrast poems by looking at their structure, theme, background or the tone of the author. When comparing and contrasting poems, you may choose either the block method, where you explain the first subject area and then the other, or point-by-point method, where you explain both subject areas together, to write your essay. When comparing and contrasting poems, follow these steps:

  • Start with a topic sentence explaining your main point and use examples to emphasize each.
  • End with a summary of the main points and your opinion on which is better.

How to Compare and Contrast Two Articles?

To compare and contrast two articles, you need to:

  • Explain what both articles are about
  • Identify the similarities
  • Identify the differences
  • Conclude with a summary of the main points and give your opinion on which is better and why.

How to Compare and Contrast Pictures?

To compare and contrast two pictures, you need to:

  • Explain what is happening in both pictures
  • Identify what is common between the two pictures
  • Identify what makes each picture different from the other
  • Summarize the main points and give your opinion on which you prefer, giving reasons why this is so.

How to Compare and Contrast Two Stories?

To compare and contrast two stories, you need to:

  • Explain the background of each story ensuring you mention of the structure, theme and tone of the author.
  • Identify what is similar about the two stories, making sure to state what is the common theme or tone of the two stories.
  • State what makes each story different from the other, making sure to highlight unique parts that set each other apart.

How to Compare and Contrast Two Characters?

When comparing and contrasting two characters from a story, you will need to consider the following:

  • Their physical traits
  • Dialogue and interaction with other characters
  • Their actions
  • Their thoughts

How to Compare and Contrast Art Paintings?

When comparing two pieces of art, you will need to look at several aspects of each piece. These include: the style, function or symbolism and the cultural context of each. As usual, you will state what is similar and different about these two art paintings to give your reader a good idea about them.

How to Compare and Contrast Using a Venn Diagram?

When comparing and contrasting using a Venn Diagram, employ the following method.

  1. Draw two overlapping circles.
  2. Label each circle with the name of the item to be compared and contrasted.
  3. In the overlapping section of the circles, write the similarities between the two items.

In the individual circles, write the differences between each item.        

CONTRAST ESSSAY OUTLINE EXAMPLE

Below is an example of a contrast essay outline which should look as follows:

I. Introduction

A. Opening statement:  On December 27, 2015, just after Christmas holidays, I found myself in a ditch flat out drunk. My family did not have the pleasure of celebrating the holidays because they were out looking for me. After arriving home and seeing their sad and disappointed faces, I knew it was time to quit drinking. On January 2016 I checked myself into a rehab and got the help I badly needed. Since then I have worked hard to configure my life. As a sober man, I have tried to make a difference in the society, get a job, be a responsible parent and observed my health.

B. Thesis statement: As a sober man, I have tried to make a difference in the society, get a job, be a responsible parent and observed my health.

II. Body

A. Make a difference in the society (is one thing I’ve learned to do better since I stopped drinking.) 

    1. Help others quit abusing alcohol    

        a. (Sober) …

        b. (Drinking) …

    2. Take part in community volunteer programs   

        a. (Sober) …

        b. (Drinking) …

    3.  Drinking under the influence       

        a. (Sober) …

        b. (Drinking) …

B. A responsible parent 

    1. Attending my children sports events     

        a. (Sober) …  

        b. (Drinking) …

C. Observed my health

    1. Eating Healthy    

        a. (Sober) …

        b. (Drinking) …

    2. Working Out   

        a. (Sober) …

        b. (Drinking) …

III. Conclusion

Ever since I stopped drinking not only has my life changed for the better but also I have been able to shape other people’s lives. My family is happy with my progress and they too are living a worry free life since am always available when they need me. 

It is always important to keep the structure of your essay in mind. And though it is more about contrasting two different yet related subjects, it is still necessary not to sound biased. When discussing, you have to give fair treatment to both subjects. By this means, your readers will trust your information and will also see them as relevant to take note. So, if you have difficulties on how to write a contrast essay, just follow the tips outlined above.

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