How to Write a Compare and Contrast Paper
Compare and contrast essays are amongst the most important papers assigned to high-school students. This is such an essay which turns around comparing two entities, processes, personalities, etc., and then contrasting them to each other. The main objective of writing a compare and contrast paper is to define the given entities, processes, and personalities better. Unlike definition essays, compare and contrast essays have to put the subject of analysis into context and show its relation with other subjects from the same class in order to gain more knowledge about the former. By comparing and contrasting much more information about the subject can be derived. However, a compare and contrast essay also has its flaws: it always shows two things in their relationship, thus isn’t able to exhaust all their features and specifics; hence, the elaborated definition is not complete.
A compare and contrast paper consists of three main parts: comparing, contrasting, and drawing conclusions from both of these (or thesis part as it can be alternatively called). The first two parts must be longer than the third one. You should also keep in mind that your work will need a good introduction into the topic and the subject matter. Here is an example:
- Introduction: one page
- Comparing part: two pages
- Contrasting part: two pages
- Drawing conclusions: one page
- Conclusion: half a page
So, the length of a compare and contrast paper would be around seven pages. Of course, it may be shorter, but you need to adhere to the same ratio.
As you can see, the penultimate and the ultimate parts are not one and the same. To draw conclusions from a given set of data is not the same as to conclude the essay. Your concluding part needs to be only a good recapitulation of everything written prior to it. On the other hand, the process of drawing conclusions is interconnected with the comparing and contrasting part.
The topic of a compare and contrast essay should be related to a comparison between two things of the same class. The topics can cover various areas, such as: geography, technology, history, business, etc. Sample topics could be the following:
- Computers and books
- Laptops and tablets
- Napoleon and Julius Caesar
- Japan and South Korea
But some of the topics can lead to a good discussion, thereby touching upon serious, actual, or philosophical issues such as:
- Free college education and paid college education
- Christianity and Islam
- Belief in God and atheism
- Democracy and dictatorship
The best topics are those which can provoke the interest of the reader, and also allow for different points of view. Even the latter topic, “Democracy and dictatorship”, can be interesting and should not have an ambiguous answer regarding which one of these is wrong and which one is right. You should not think that everyone will support your opinion, and for that reason you must show the similarities and differences in such a way, to be able to draw a logical conclusion which you will be able to defend.
4. Collecting information
A compare and contrast paper does not require too much reading from you. If it still happens that the topic is unfamiliar to you, you will need to gather some information on both subjects to be compared and contrasted. You need to approach the process of collecting data by keeping in mind your main objective – to find the main similarities and differences between both subjects. Another step you need to take is to reduce the information already gathered. You can find ten similarities, for example, but you cannot present all of them. Three or maximum four similarities and differences will be fine.
An outline is a preliminary draft consisting only of hints pointing to your own ideas related to the essay. An excellent outline would serve as a basis for writing the essay; the better is the outline, the easier the essay writing would be.
Below, there is a compare and contrast essay outline example on the topic “Computers and books”:
-Topic: Computers and books
-Introduction: people now read less than in the past due to computer technologies. This essay will try to understand the reasons for this by comparing and contrasting both things.
Similarity 1: both computers and books are an important part of our daily life; we cannot imagine our life without them.
Similarity 2: both computers and books are related to literacy; we call the ability to work with computers as computer literacy.
Similarity 3: both computers and books help us practice our professions by giving information, instructions, etc.
Difference 1: Dealing with computers is much more convenient because today even our phones perform similar functions. Books take more space and also contain less information.
Difference 2: Dealing with books makes people have wider imagination and language, which is impossible in case of computers.
Difference 3: Excessive use of computers can lead to dependence on them (and negative consequences such as wasting time, lack of sleep, lack of concentration, etc.). Unlike them, books can never make us waste our time or doing things which we do not want to do (like staying on Facebook for the whole night against the principles of common sense).
-Drawing conclusions from the previous two parts: Computers have many more functions than books but books still have some advantages over computer technologies. We still need them both.
-Conclusion: recapitulation of the similarities and differences, and the conclusion derived from them.
Your compare and contrast essay consists of three main parts. The first part will contain a comparison between the two subjects; this is the comparing part. It is very important to compare two subjects of the same class: historical events (wars), geographic objects (countries), religions (Christianity and Islam), etc. It is not reasonable to compare two subjects which do not have almost anything in common; for instance, a business company and Napoleon. A business company should be compared only with another company.
You need to highlight a few similarities between both things. Search for the most important similarities, otherwise, the length of the essay will not be enough. The example with Similarity 1 (above) shows that these similarities can be found not only in formal descriptions but can also be posed within practical context, i.e. what are the practical bearings and value of these two things. We know computers and books are important for us, and that they are part of our daily living.
The above said is also valid for the contrasting part. To contrast means to oppose, to show two things in their opposition, their difference from one another. You have to find three (or four, depending on the previous part) main differences and to contrast both subjects within the context of these differences. But remember: description is not enough. You need to explain these differences, i.e. to say where they come from. Difference 2 (as given above) shows that computer users do not have language as rich as the one used by people who read a lot. Why is that? Why the daily usage of a computer cannot improve our vocabulary? This needs to be clarified. `
8. Drawing conclusions
This part can also be called “thesis” but usually people elaborate a thesis and then attempt to prove it; and here you start with comparing and contrasting two subjects, and then draw conclusions from the information presented prior to it. Now, having written the first and the second parts of your compare and contrast essay, you have to draw the appropriate conclusions. Here you can say in what sense both things differ, and in what sense they are similar. Then you can add your personal opinion: what people prefer today, computers or books? What are the consequences of that - for individuals and for society? What are the reasons for that?
A sample conclusion may sound as follows: “Computers have much more functions than books and it appears the former are more useful for society. Still, books have their own advantages which nothing else can lead to - rich imagination and rich vocabulary.”
An inappropriate (or illogical) conclusion could sound in the following manner: “Computers are the mark of a highly-developed civilization. Books are remains of an old time.” This conclusion is not valid because:
- it is not connected with the similarities and differences indicated above; it contains new assertions which are not mentioned in the previous parts.
- it does not contain clear opinion; a reader will not be certain about the personal point of view of the author. Yes, computers are “new”, and books are “old”, so what? Nowhere in the essay it is written that what is “new” is preferable over what is “old”.
Such a conclusion is not absolutely unnecessary, though. On the contrary, it can be used as a point of comparison between computers and books (for instance, to explain why people prefer dealing with computers).
Although a compare and contrast paper does not require from you to refer to various sources, you still can employ citations; for example, if the topic of your compare and contrast essay concerns a complicated issue, or is related to an issue which is not well-known to your readers.
Since compare and contrast essay is usually not so lengthy, it is not advisable to use more than two short quotations. If you have more citations, then the reader might be distracted. If you employ citations, then you need to adhere to a particular academic style of reference (MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian, etc), depending on the requirements of your teacher. This style must be applied to the next section of your essay - the List of References, or Bibliography.
Certainly, your list of references will be short but still, you need to indicate your sources clearly. Without a bibliography your essay will not seem credible enough. The list of references must include: author, title, date and place of publication (formatted according to the aforementioned academic style).
Here are some examples of the most popular academic standards:
MacLaine, Shirley. It’s all in the playing. New York: Bantam, 1987
(article in journal)
Suits, Bernard. “Doubts about Peirce’s cosmology.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, vol 14, no. 4, 1979, pp. 311-321
MacLaine, S. (1987). It’s all in the playing. New York: Bantam.
(article in journal)
Suits, B. (1979). Doubts about Peirce’s cosmology. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 14(4), 311-321.
Chicago and Turabian style
MacLaine, Shirley. It’s All in the Playing. New York: Bantam, 1987.
(article in journal)
Suits, Bernard. “Doubts about Peirce’s cosmology.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 14, no. 4 (1979): 311-321.
Once your compare and contrast paper is written, you must check it for spelling, grammar, style, coherence, and so forth. Pay attention to both aspects: formal and substantial. Formally, your grammar should be perfect. Substantially, your essay must hold onto a given point of view and prove it by showing the similarities and differences between the two subjects compared. Try to be as logical as you can; do not remark similarities or differences which are not essential. Relate your conclusion only to what you have written in the Comparing and Contrasting parts.
A compare and contrast paper has its own peculiarities and you need to practice more in order to improve your writing skills. You should have excellent analytical skills, which means to be able to grasp the similarities and differences in their depth. Do not forget that a compare and contrast essay is not merely about describing but also about elucidating the reasons and/or the consequences from these similarities/differences.
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