19 The Compare/Contrast Essay – Similarities and Differences Come to Light

Writing a Compare/Contrast Essay
Think of the Compare/Contrast essay as a bridge between both the Personal Essay and the Issues (Research) Essay. To begin, we often compare and contrast things in our everyday lives—what gas station to go to, what to major in, which job is better, etc. Sometimes comparing and contrasting allows one the possibility of gauging which choice (or perhaps subject) is more advantageous to you personally, or perhaps might be more beneficial on a larger scale (like when a company decides which health plan will provide its employees with the best benefits). Your purpose in this essay is to evaluate a subject or subjects. In another sense, comparing and contrasting affords one the possibility of shedding light on an issue or conflict, and works by illustrating both sides of the subject (or perhaps debate). If you wanted to provide an objective take on the current economic climate of the US, you might provide data (or facts) from both before and after the economic downturn of late. This would be considered a more informative approach here. While the latter is common, your essay should focus more on the former, where you will take a stance and make a judgment on the subject(s) at hand. This being the case then, your Compare/Contrast Essay should present both your perspective in relation to the subject(s) and provide evidence via a progression of logical arguments to support your claims.
Compare/Contrast

  • Involves juxtaposition → putting things (subjects/parts) side by side
  • Illustrates the similarities/differences of a subject or subjects
  • Might also illustrate the advantages/disadvantages of subject(s)
  • Helps you organize information in arriving at a choice/decision/outcome
  • Often used when someone makes a decision or has to choose
  • Subjects must be similar enough, or could be various parts of a larger subject
  • You should figure out the factors involved before writing
  • Depending on the subject, some research may be necessary
  • Common ways we compare/contrast →  analogies → metaphors & similes
  • Commonly used words or phrases to suggest similarities/comparisons: like, as, also, in a like manner, similarly, likewise, in addition
  • Commonly used words or phrases to suggest differences/contrasts: but, in contrast to, unlike, whereas, on one hand, however, on the other hand
  • Conclusion should reveal your ultimate choice/decision/outcome

 

Two common ways of organizing a Compare/Contrast Essay:

 

Factor-by-Factor or Subject-by-Subject

(will likely be influenced by purpose and audience)
Factor-by-Factor (or Point-by-Point):

  1. Factor 1

a) Subject A

b) Subject B

c) Subject C

2. Factor 2

a) Subject A

b) Subject B

c) Subject C

3. Factor 3

a) Subject A

b) Subject B

c) Subject C

 

Subject-by-Subject (or One-Side-at-a-Time):

A) Subject A

1. Factor 1

2. Factor 2

3. Factor 3

B) Subject B

1. Factor 1

2. Factor 2

3. Factor 3

C) Subject C

1. Factor 1

2. Factor 2

3. Factor 3

For more in-depth notes, a sample essay, and a helpful video for this rhetorical mode, please click here for compare and contrast.

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Introduction to College Writing by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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