Compare and Contrast Essay: Full Writing Guide

compare and contrast essay

A compare and contrast essay is an academic paper that evaluates the link between two subjects. Comparison means to discuss the similarities between these subjects, while contrast means to explore their differences. The materials in a compare and contrast essay are often in the same category. Although they have their differences, there is usually some connection between them. For instance, you could write an essay that compares and contrasts two colleges, two social trends, or two movies. The purpose of this type of comparison essay is not to state the glaring factors, but to draw the reader’s attention to unforeseen similarities and subtle differences.

Compare and contrast essays are common in colleges and universities. The professor assigns this paper to test the analytical skills of the students on a subject. Writing a brilliant paper involves good observant, analytical, and comparative skills. This guide will take you through all the necessary steps to writing an excellent academic paper. If by any chance you get stuck, professional writers at Grade Amplifier offer college essay writing services in the USA. You can always contact our writers and get help.

Choosing the Best Compare and Contrast Essay Topic

The first step to writing a good compare and contrast essay starts with selecting the right topic. When choosing a topic, remember to go for subjects that interest you and something that you can discuss in length with no difficulties. When you’re inspired by an idea, writing on it is as easy as you can imagine.

Also, pick two subjects that you can compare and contrast. They should be different enough that you can compare them. However, the difference between them shouldn’t be extreme else you’ll have little to no similarities to write on in your essay. Likewise, don’t choose subjects that share so many of the same characteristics. If they share many of the same properties, you’ll have a weak contrast. Here are some tips to help you select good subjects:

Find a category: As we said earlier, a compare and contrast essay often involve subjects in the same category. Choose materials that are within the same class, but have significant differences. For example, you could choose Traditional cookbooks vs online video recipes, private schools vs public schools, taking online college courses vs attending college courses, etc.

Seemingly unrelated subjects: You could also pick two subjects that seem to be unrelated at first glance, but have certain similarities when you look deeper. For example, you could write an essay that compares bats to whales, turkeys to dinosaurs, etc. These are different animals, but they have some similarities.

Books and Movies: Another idea is comparing movies vs books. For example, you could choose the Harry Potter movie vs the book, The Lord of the Rings movie vs the book, and so on. The two subjects appear to be the same but have their differences.

Before Writing: Brainstorm your Topic

When you’ve chosen a topic, the next step is to brainstorm about the similarities and differences between your subjects. You can start by conducting research on the topic and getting familiar with it. Depending on your level of organization, you may want to write down main points on a sheet of paper or make a list. If you decide to go with the latter, create two columns, one for putting down the similarities and the other for differences. Write down everything that comes to mind during this stage, including the striking and minuscule points.

If you’re a visual person, you may prefer using a Venn diagram instead. Draw two circles that overlap, one for each of the subjects. In the outer part of the circle, you write down the differences; write the similarities in the overlapping section. The Venn diagram makes it easier to visualize the features of each subject. You’ll have a clearer image of what you’ll write. You can also use tables and charts to organize similarities and differences.

Consider your Main Argument and Points

A compare and contrast essay goes beyond listing similarities and differences. The idea behind this type of paper is not to put down several features, but to analyze each point and the conclusions you draw from them. Once you’re through with your list, you’re almost ready to start writing. Go back to your notes and pick the most essential. It will be impossible to use all the points you wrote down in your essay. Instead, choose only a few compelling ones. When you look at the features you jotted, what is the most significant about the subjects of discussion? Use that as the main argument. Always choose elements that are central to both subjects. 

Develop your Thesis

A compare and contrast essay, just like any other academic paper, needs a strong thesis statement. The thesis statement should help the reader understand what your essay is about and the importance of comparing and contrasting the two subjects. There are many ways to state a thesis. You can either develop an evaluative or explanatory thesis statement.

In an explanatory thesis statement, you compare the two subjects without taking any stance, while an evaluative thesis declares why one subject is better than the other.

Here are examples of how you can present your thesis statement:

While Facebook and Twitter are great social media platforms, only Twitter is popular with reporters, celebrities and politicians; many people turn to it for trending news.  

Although Pepsi and Coke are famous brands of soda, there are differences in terms of nutritional content, taste, and business model. 


Choose an Essay Structure

There are many possible ways to organize a compare and contrast essay. How you structure your paper depends on the way you’d love to put forward the argument. You could choose to present all the similarities first, then show all the differences. Or you could choose to explain the similarity and difference of one feature, then the similarity and difference of another point, and so on. If a particular structure does not help present your ideas, you can always change it and use another method.

Subject by Subject Essay Structure: You can decide to present all the details on subject A first, then proceed to the details on subject B. For instance, if your topic is about European culture and American culture, you start by first providing information on European culture. You can use as many paragraphs to discuss it, then move to provide all the points on American culture. Use this method when you have fewer points or when you have less complicated subjects to discuss. This method can appear less sophisticated and may read like a list of features. To stay on a safe side, carefully monitor the development of your essay, and use it only when your points are few. 

Point by Point Essay Structure: This organization is best when you’re dealing with complex subjects. A point by point comparison looks like a back and forth approach between subjects. For instance, you could start by discussing education in European culture vs American culture. Then go ahead to discuss religion, patriotism, and other points, with that sequence. When using this method, be sure to keep it flowing with transition words and phrases.


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Essay Outline

Developing an outline will help you have a template to work with when writing an academic paper. Regardless of what organizational structure you want to use, the essay outline always has a general procedure. The traditional method for outlining an essay follows the format of having an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, be free to include an additional body paragraph to cover all of the most important points and information for each subject.


This first section tells the reader what your essay is about and why they should care to read it. Introduce the topic of discussion and provide background information on the subjects you’ll be comparing and contrasting. Start with a hook – something to hold the interest of your reader before you go on to provide background information. It should also include your thesis statement. Most times, the thesis is the last statement in your introduction.

Main Body

The main body is where you provide all the relevant pieces of information and evidence for your essay. Each body paragraph should focus on a different criterion. You should add a description and corresponding evidence. Your analysis of the points of comparison and contrast, with sufficient proof, should point back to and support your thesis. The traditional essay requires that you use three body paragraphs, but if you need to, you can use more.

How to organize the main body of your essay

Each body paragraph should have the following sections:

  1. Topic sentence: This is the sentence that introduces the main idea of that section. You can add transitions from the previous paragraph and link it with what you’re about to discuss.
  2. Body: Here, you provide sufficient evidence that supports your topic sentence.
  3. Conclusion: The last sentence that summarizes the idea in that paragraph. Also include transition elements here, for the next section.  


This section presents the summary of the main points and allows you to leave the final impression with your audience. Restate your thesis statement, but do not use the same words as in your introduction. The thesis statement in this paragraph should offer more information and insight. But, do not state any new information in your conclusion. Provide a powerful last sentence that leaves an impact on the reader.


Outline your Body Paragraphs

Point by Point Outline

This format follows the following method:

Point 1 of comparison:

  1. Discuss the first point of subject A
  2. Discuss the first point of subject B
  3. Compare and contrast: Discuss the first points of similarities and dissimilarities of subjects A and B
  4. Link to the next paragraph

Point 2 of comparison:

  1. Discuss the second point of subject A
  2. Discuss the second point of subject B
  3. Compare and contrast: Discuss the second points of similarities and dissimilarities of subjects A and B
  4. Link to the next paragraph 

Point 3 of comparison:

  1. Discuss the third point of subject A
  2. Discuss the third point of subject B
  3. Compare and contrast: Discuss the third points of similarities and dissimilarities of subjects A and B
  4. Link to the next paragraph

Continue similarly to discuss all the points and features on your subjects.

Subject by Subject Outline

The second method you could use in organizing your body paragraphs is the subject by subject approach. It follows this simple format:

Subject A

  1. The first point of comparison
  2. The second point of comparison
  3. The third point of comparison
  4. Analysis of all the presented points.
  5. Link to the next paragraph

Subject B

  1. The first point of comparison
  2. The second point of comparison
  3. The third point of comparison
  4. Analysis of all the presented points.
  5. Link to the next paragraph

When using this approach, be sure to compare parallel points. That way, the reader will not lose track of the features of comparison and contrast. Also, you can decide to present your analysis after each point, instead of at the end. 

How to Use Transitions in your Essay

Transitions are essential when writing a compare and contrast essay. That is because you’ll be discussing different perspectives, and you must carry your audiences along. They make your essay flow better and also improve your writing generally.

Examples of transition words and phrases for comparison: Likewise, as well, both, similarly, too, similar to, alike, also, in the same manner, etc.

Examples of transition words and phrases for contrast: But, however, unlike, in contrast, on the other hand, conversely, although, rather than, whereas, etc.

The use of transition words in your essay makes it more professional. However, do not stuff these words everywhere in your paper. Use it with some finesse when you want to show the relationship between concepts.

Support your Point with Evidence

When writing your essay, you must support your argument with enough evidence. That way, your paper will look and sound more credible. Support your statements with evidence from academic journals, documentary films, books, magazines, or personal experiences. For example, if your essay compares two cities, London and Barcelona, in terms of tourism, you could talk about your personal experiences in both cities if you’ve been there. It’s important that you use the right type of evidence. Be sure to include only pieces of information that matter in the context you’re using them.

Proofread and Edit

After you finish writing your essay, it’s time to proofread and check for grammatical errors; do not submit your paper without editing it. Mistakes in punctuation and grammar can lead to low grades. You can use online spell and grammar check tools. Or have a friend or family member go through it and find mistakes you might have missed. Likewise, revise your paper for structure and organization. Pay attention to the arrangement of your essay, and make sure the idea on one subject balances the idea on the other.

Final Tips on Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay

  • You can’t write a strong compare and contrast essay without first going through the instructions. Read the instructions carefully to understand what you are to write about, and the format to use. This preliminary work is the basis for a good essay.
  • Avoid first-person pronouns in your academic paper; use the third person instead. Do not write in the first person, except your instructor encourages you to do that. It’s possible to include your personal opinion without using “I”. Here is a typical case: instead of “I think more business owners should use collaboration tools”, write “More business owners should…”
  • Remember to clarify the little-known concept and information in your essay. It’s great to use lesser-known ideas and theories, but do not assume your reader already knows it. You need to provide a clear and confident explanation.
  • Use proper formatting and citation style. Remember, a compare and contrast essay is an academic paper, and you should use the correct formatting style. If you’re not sure what format to use, or your instructor didn’t specify, you can ask always ask.
  • Start your essay early so you can have enough time to write and proofread. Most students don’t give themselves time to take a break from their paper. Editing your essay a day or two after writing helps you identify organizational and grammatical mistakes you missed the first time.

Need more help with your compare and contrast essay?

Are you finding it hard choosing a topic to write on? Or do you feel stuck in the middle of your compare and contrast essay? There’s no need to worry; you can use professional writing services. Our writers are available to help you, and we offer the best essay writing services in the USA. Our academic papers are high-quality and plagiarism-free. Click on the button below to get in touch with a professional.

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