Writing A Comparative Essay Tips

How to Write a Comparative Essay

April 21, 2017|Category: Freelance Writing, Writing Tips

Whenever you are asked to compare and contrast two things, first and foremost, you need to do your research and learn in depth about the items you are comparing. The undeniable truth is that “writing comes more easily when you have something to say” (Karl Kraus). The best option would be to compile a list of all the similarities and differences you can think of. The deeper you dig into your topic, the more impressive and thought-provoking your comparison analysis will be. Once you have a thorough understanding of the two concepts and a sufficient bunch of ideas, you will feel like start writing your essay.

However, it is very unlikely you are one of those rare geniuses who can compose a good essay off the top of their head. Most people, even if they are experienced writers, find it easier to write an outline and give some thought to the structure before they immerse themselves in the very process of writing. Thus, a good idea would be to hold your horses, and decide what structure would be the most appropriate. There are several methods you can use while structuring a compare and contrast essay:

1. Mixed paragraphs method.

Address both concepts you are comparing in each paragraph. It means you will need to think of several aspects that can be applied to both items, and discuss each of them in every paragraph. For example, if your task is to compare two lifestyles – celebrities via ordinary people, your main body may look as follows:

Paragraph 1: Social activity of celebrities / Social activity of ordinary people

Paragraph 2:  Interests of celebrities / Interests of ordinary people

You can include as many aspects as you find appropriate and discuss each of them in each paragraph comparing two concepts. The advantage of such structure is that it continuously focuses the reader’s attention on the comparison. Furthermore, each argument is equally developed.

2. Alternate method.

Each paragraph can be devoted to one of the subjects:

Paragraph 1: Social activity of celebrities

Paragraph 2:  Social activity of ordinary people

Paragraph 3:  Interests of celebrities

Paragraph 4:  Interests of ordinary people

Such structure is recommended for complicated subjects as it will allow you to pay more attention to details and do more in-depth analysis.

3. Cover each side separately.

Devote the first part of your essay to one argument through as many paragraphs as you think would be necessary, and then cover another argument in the second part:

Paragraph 1: Social activity of celebrities

Paragraph 2: Interests of celebrities

Paragraph 3: Social activity of ordinary people

Paragraph 4: Interests of ordinary people

With this method, be careful not to make your essay one-sided. Also, it should be easy for the reader to follow. Thus, it is not recommended for complicated subjects, which require some depth and detail.

Apart from the structure, a strong thesis statement is vital for any essay, and a comparison analysis is not an exception. The comparative nature of your thesis statement will depend on how two subjects are related. In addition, it should express the nature of comparing items. The most common way of indicating the relationship between the two concepts is by using the word “whereas” in your thesis.  Furthermore, each point of your argument should be linked back to the thesis. This way a reader will be able to see how new sections logically advance your argument.

Now, when you are fully-armed with a list of ideas, an outline and a strong thesis statement for your essay, it’s time to start a battle with a blank sheet of paper! “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway)

What is a comparative essay?

A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare

  • positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
  • theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
  • figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
  • texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamletand Macbeth)
  • events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)

Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.

Make sure you know the basis for comparison

The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.

  • Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
  • Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.

Develop a list of similarities and differences

Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.

For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.

The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.

Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences

Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:

  1. Differences outweigh similarities:

    While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.

  2. Similarities outweigh differences:

    Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.

Come up with a structure for your essay

  1. Alternating method: Point-by-point patternIn the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For instance, a comparative essay on the French and Russian revolutions might examine how both revolutions either encouraged or thwarted innovation in terms of new technology, military strategy, and the administrative system.
    AParagraph 1 in bodynew technology and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 2 in bodynew technology and the Russian Revolution
    AParagraph 3 in bodymilitary strategy and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 4 in bodymilitary strategy and the Russian Revolution
    AParagraph 5 in bodyadministrative system and the French Revolution
    BParagraph 6 in bodyadministrative system and the Russian Revolution

    Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.

    When do I use the alternating method? Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.

  2. Block method: Subject-by-subject patternIn the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block method on the French and Russian revolutions would address the French Revolution in the first half of the essay and the Russian Revolution in the second half. If you choose the block method, however, do not simply append two disconnected essays to an introductory thesis. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
    AParagraphs 1–3 in bodyHow the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation
    BParagraphs 4–6 in bodyHow the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation

    When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:

    • You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
    • Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
    • You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.
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