Summer and winter; jocks and nerds; PC and tablet. These are common topics that high school students select when they choose a topic for writing a compare and contrast essay. College students will write comparison/contrast essays too, and the expectations for quality writing and more complex topics will certainly make writing one a bit more challenging. But the basics have not changed, and reviewing them is a good idea.
Three Possible Purposes
Obviously this type of essay will require the writer to compare and/or contrast people, things, ideas, concepts, etc. Sometimes, the purpose will be only to compare; sometimes, it will be only to contrast; and sometimes, it will be to do both. A clear understanding of the purpose is critical so that you stay focused. If, for example, you are only comparing and you throw in something that is contrasting, you have compromised the clarity of the essay.
A Fourth Purpose
Often, at least at the college level, a comparison/contrast essay may have a persuasive purpose. If, for example, you are trying to convince your reader that a small college is preferable to a large one, you will be writing a contrast essay, but you will begin with a thesis statement that presents your opinion. Then, you will present the contrast points that bolster your opinion.
Organization of the Essay
One of the biggest issues that students have in learning how to write a compare and contrast essay effectively is presenting the similarities and/or differences in a logical, coherent way. Here are the basic steps that will help you out:
1. You do need to carefully organize your information before you start to write. If you are presenting a comparison, then you can make lists; the same goes for contrasts. If you present both, you will need a list for comparison and a list for contrasts. Some students use Venn diagrams to organize information because it gives a solid visual.
2. How you present your information is the next decision, and you have two options:
A. You can present each of the criteria in a single paragraph, showing the similarities, differences, or both.
B. You can write lengthier paragraphs that present all of the similarities or differences between the two items.
Here is one of the most important compare-and-contrast essay writing tips. If you have a number of criteria for comparison, then use a separate paragraph for each criterion. If you have only a couple of criteria, then you can use a longer paragraph and handle both.
Also, if you have a lot of criteria, understand that your essay may have many more body paragraphs than the average essay. The more complex a topic, the more paragraphs you are likely to have.
Choosing a Topic
You may have options within a general topic area – say, democracy. Within that general topic area, you may want to choose to compare and/or contrast the types of democratic institutions in the U.S. and the UK. Or, you might want to contrast the method by which the French select a president and the U.S. Electoral College.
When you have total freedom of topic selection, as is common in an English comp class, you should select a topic in which you have a lot of interest or, if you have a bent for humor, one that will be funny. (Hint: Instructors tend to like humor because they read so much serious stuff).
If You Struggle
Topics at the college level can become a bit complex. Suppose, for example, you were asked to write a comparison/contrast essay on quantum and particle physics for a basic physical science course. Even though you are able to gather the information you need, organizing the content may be a pretty big challenge. It is not unusual, nor is it considered shameful to seek to compare and contrast essay help, and there are excellent sources for help from reputable online essay writing services. Take the help if you need it.