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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Comparison and Contrast Essay: Block Method
There are two basic patterns writers use for comparison/contrast essays: the block method and the point-by-point method. In the block method, you describe all the similarities in the first body paragraph and then all the differences in the second body paragraph. The guideline below will help you remember what you need to do in each part of a comparison/contrast essay using the block method.
1. Attract the reader’s attention.
2. Provide background information about your topic.
3. Identify the two things being compared and contrasted.
4. State the purpose for making the comparison and/or contrast.
5. State the thesis.
1. In the first paragraph, discuss the similarities.
2. In the next paragraph, discuss the differences.
1. Paraphrase the thesis.
2. Summarize the main similarities and differences.
3. Paraphrase the importance of the topic.
Block Method Student Essay
Fighting the Battle against Drugs
The use of drugs has increased in recent years, according to numerous articles in medical journals. They threaten communities all over the world because of how affect the organs of the body and their functions. Crack and cocaine are two of these dangerous drugs. Thus, it is important for health care professionals to have knowledge about them in order to deal with any problems related to their use that patients may experience. While they may appear similar at first glance, in fact they have three major differences.
Crack and cocaine have three similar effects on the human body. Although crack is heat resistant and cocaine is destroyed by heat, both cause hypertension. Also, crack and cocaine bring about physiological and psychological damage, depending on pre-existing conditions and the extent of drug use. For example, hallucination, psychosis, paranoia and aggressive behavior may occur, and an overdose of either may cause cardiac collapse or convulsion. Finally, use of both drugs can lead to addiction.
Despite crack and cocaine’s similarities, they have three major differences. First, although crack and cocaine are derived from the coca plant, they differ in form. Crack has the form of flakes whereas cocaine is found in the form of powder, which can be dissolved. Furthermore, both crack and cocaine contain cocaine, but in various percentages: crack contains as much as 90 percent pure cocaine whereas cocaine contains from 15 to 25 percent pure cocaine. Another major difference is how they enter the body. For example, crack is smoked in a pipe or cigarette. It enters the body by the lungs into the bloodstream. Cocaine, on the other hand, is inhaled as a powder or is injected if dissolved. It enters the body via the nasal mucosa into the bloodstream or, if injected, directly via the bloodstream.
In conclusion, it can be seen that, while being alike in three ways, these two drugs differ in three ways. They affect the body in similar ways. Both can lead to physiological problems such as convulsions and psychological problems such as hallucinations.Furthermore, their use may result in addiction. However, cocaine and crack differ in form, content of pure cocaine and method of entry into the body. Therefore, it is important that health care professionals know about these drugs.