Center for Writers - Resources

COMPARISON AND CONTRAST


When you read assignments, certain key words and phrases - compare and contrast, similarities and differences, relative merits, advantages and disadvantages - indicate that you should use a comparison-and-contrast pattern to organize your essay.

The first step is to establish a basis of comparison, the common element or elements in the subjects you will discuss. For example, although cats and dogs are dissimilar pets, both can learn from their owners. Cats and dogs may be taught different behaviors in different ways, but these differences can be analyzed because both animals share a common element: Both are trainable. Without a common element, you would have no basis for analysis - that is, no basis of comparison.

When you compare and contrast, make sure that you discuss the same elements for both subjects. For instance, if you were going to compare and contrast two poems, you might consider the following elements in both works:

                                    Poem 1                                    Poem 2

                                Symbolism                               Symbolism
                                   Meter                                       Meter
                                  Theme                                     Theme

You would not consider symbolism and theme in one poem and meter and symbolism in the other.

There are two forms of comparison/contrast papers. Each form has its own characteristics that are useful for different types of paper formats. Here is a description of each of those two forms:

Subject-by-Subject Comparison

A subject-by-subject comparison is, in effect, two separate essays about the same subject. Of course, the essays are linked with a transition and cover the same points. For example, to compare and contrast dogs and cats, you might organize your information in the following way:

       Introduction: Thesis statement - Even though dogs and cats are both popular pets, they have vastly different characteristics that require owners to deal with them in different ways.

        Dogs
               Point 1: Dependent
               Point 2: Eager to please
               Point 3: Easily trained

        Cats
               Point 1: Independent
               Point 2: Indifferent about pleasing
               Point 3: Not easily trained

        Conclusion: Restatement of thesis

Subject-by-subject comparisons work best for short papers that cover simple subjects.

Point-by-Point Comparison: When you write a point-by-point comparison, you write about each major point for both subjects before moving on to another main point. For example, the information about cats and dogs might be organized in the following manner:

    Introduction: Thesis statement - Even though dogs and cats are both popular pets, they have vastly different characteristics that require owners to deal with them in different ways.

        Degree of dependence on owner
                   Dogs
                   Cats

        Eagerness to please
            Dogs
                Cats

        Trainability
             Dogs
             Cats

        Conclusion: Restatement of thesis

Point-by-point comparisons are especially useful for longer, more complicated essays in which you discuss a number of different points.