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Writing about Similarities and Differences in an Essay

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/5/2012

One of the most common essays you will write is the compare and contrast essay. Follow these steps and see how much better your grade is when compared to others.

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    Thinking about Comparison and Contrast

    The first step in writing a compare and contrast essay involves thinking.

    When you are asked to write this type of essay, you will focus on the ways in which two (or more) things or ideas are similar to and/or different from one another. To compare the things or ideas, you will focus on the similarities between them. To contrast the things or ideas, you will focus on the differences between them. By writing about their similarities and differences, you will better understand the items you are comparing, their relationship to each other, and what is important about them.

    To begin comparing and contrasting items, you should think about some general properties of different types of things you might have to compare. For example, if you are comparing objects, you might consider descriptions such as size, shape, color, sound, weight, taste, texture, smell, and number. You can probably think of other ways to compare the objects.

    Here are some other topics to compare and contrast and questions to ask yourself:

    • People – Where are they from? How old are they? What is the gender, race, and class of each? What are they known for? Do they have any relationship to each other? What are they like? Why are they interesting?
    • Pieces of writing or art - For writing: what plot, characterization, setting, theme, tone, and type of narration are used? For art - What are their titles? What do they describe or depict? What is their tone? What is their form? Who created them? When? Why do you think they were created?
    • Historical periods or events – When did they occur? What happened or changed during each? Why are they significant? What work did people do? What kinds of relationships did they have? What did they value? What kinds of governments existed?

    After asking yourself some questions, you should then make a chart. This will help you figure out what you want to focus on in comparing the items. Along the left side of the chart, list the names of the items. Across the top, list each of the descriptions. You should have a box per item for each description. Then, fill in the boxes and see what you have discovered.

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    The Next Step: Organizing and Writing

    In writing a compare and contrast essay, your thesis statement is very important. It can help you create a focused argument and help your reader not got lost in the many points of the essay. Your thesis should be detailed and specific.

    There are many different ways to organize a compare and contrast essay. In a subject-by-subject essay, you can begin by saying what you have to say about the first subject you are discussing, then make all the points you want to make about the second subject. In a point-by-point essay, rather than addressing things one subject at a time, you may want to talk about one point of comparison at a time. Depending on the length of the essay, you can use either format and write a point of comparison and contrast in one paragraph, or write several paragraphs about a point.

    Finally, to help your reader know where you are in the comparison and contrast, you should use transition words. When comparing things, you should use words such as similar to, also, similarly, in the same way, likewise, again, compared to, and in like manner. When contrasting things, you should words such as contrast, on the contrary, however, although, yet, even though, but, conversely, regardless, despite, and on the other hand.