Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
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What are compare and contrast transition words? Before you can understand what they are, you should know the use of transition words and phrases first. Fundamentally, those words and phrases help on making essays easier to read.
In addition, they allow the readers to transition from one topic or point to another. They enhance the understandability and logical organization of an article by helping the readers know the relationship of the previous and following sentence and/or paragraph in the paper they are reading.
Contrast and Comparison
As the term implies, compare and contrast transition words are transitional phrases/words that show comparison and contrasting relation of two ideas. They are also used to emphasize negative and positive ideas. For you to have a clue on what exactly are they, here is a list of the most common contrast and compare transition words and phrases that are used in everyday writing and speech.
- A clear difference
- Conflicting viewpoint
- Even so
- For all that
- In another way
- On one hand
- Still another
- The antithesis of
- In the same way
- By the same token
- In like manner
- In similar fashion
- By the same token
- On the other hand
- In contrast
Here are some examples on how to use contrast and compare transitional words.
- Contrasting Transition Example
First sentence: I want to buy an ice cream.
Second sentence: My mother does not want me to buy an ice cream.
- Contrast 1: I want to buy an ice cream, but my mother does not want me to buy one.
Contrast 2: I want to buy an ice cream. However, my mother does not want me to buy one.
Contrast 3: I want to buy an ice cream; unfortunately, my mother does not want me to buy one.
First sentence: I eat ice cream slowly.
Second sentence: I eat cotton candies slowly.
- Comparison 1: I eat ice cream slowly, in the same way I eat cotton candies.
Comparison 2: I eat ice cream slowly. Likewise, I eat cotton candies slowly, too.
Comparison 3: I eat ice cream slowly; similarly, I eat cotton candies slowly, too.
The examples above demonstrate how to use both type of transition words. As you can see, the sentences are now easier to read than the sentences without the transition words. Also, you have now a clearer understanding on how the ideas of the sentences are related.
Using compare and contrast transition words are very easy. Nevertheless, they can greatly affect your article’s readability and quality in a positive way. Ergo, make sure you always use them.
Dr. Michael Babcock is a Professor of Humanities at the Liberty University, Virginia. He wrote “The Stories of Attila the Hun’s Death: Narrative, Myth, and Meaning” (2001) and was a guest speaker at academic conferences on language origins and the philosophy of consciousness topics. Since 2008, he delivers help with academic papers on behalf of Professional Custom Essay Writing Service at freshessays.com.