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How to Write a Comparison-Contrast Essay

Mr.  Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

In a comparison/contrast essay, you take two or more things and discuss how they are the same (compare) and how they are different (contrast).

Before you begin

To be able to do this, you need to be able to look at different aspects of an item, just like you have to do in a review.  If you haven't read about doing reviews, I suggest you start there.

How to do it


This may already be done for you.  I may tell you in the writing prompt to compare the acting talents of Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Sylvester Stallone, or the writing of R.L.  Stine and Shakespeare.  If I haven't, though, it's important to find two items that have aspects in common as well as apects where they differ.  It is only then that you can truly compare and contrast.


Again, if you haven't read how to analyze an item into its component parts, I suggest you do so.  Try to find more than one way in which your selected items are similar, as well as more than one way in which they differ.  This will make your essay more detailed and better.  Use a T-chart to jot down your ideas about how the items compare and contrast.  These notes will help you write an organized, convincing essay.


It is now time to start putting your essay together.  Here's a pretty simple format you can follow (although you can do it any way you want to that makes sense):

  1. Open with an introduction paragraph that does the following things:
    • catches the reader's attention;
    • identifies the items you'll be comparing and contrasting;
    • mentions the subtopics of your essay--the main idea of your body paragraphs--in the final sentence.
  2. Write at least one full paragraph where you compare and at least one where you contrast, making sure each paragraph does these things:
    • opens with a topic sentence that says what the paragraph is about;
    • has several detail sentences that prove the point you are trying to make (explaining the similarities or differences of the items).
  3. End with a conclusion paragraph that does the following:
    • briefly restates the main ideas of the essay;
    • wraps the essay up with a final sentence or two.

An example

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups vs.  Butterfinger: Twins or Not?

Eating candy is one of life's great joys.  We start when we are children, and, to be honest, we really don't care what kind of candy we eat as long as it's sweet.  To a five-year-old, SweeTarts are just about as good as Hot Tamales, which are just about as good as Crackerjack.  As time goes by, however, we get ideas about what we want to eat.  We realize that some candy just isn't any good, no matter how brightly-colored it is, or how cool the package is.  We learn that we have to make decisions about which candies we'll buy and which we'll leave alone .  To make these decisions, we must, at some level, decide which candy gives us the most value for our money.  One thing to remember is that, even if two different candies, such as Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfinger, have similar ingredients, they can be very different where it really counts: in your mouth.

Butterfinger and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups seem to have much in common.  First of all, both are filled with peanut butter.  (To be honest, I must use the term "peanut butter" carefully here; the stuff inside a Reese's is undoubtedly peanut butter, as one can tell from the breath of anybody who has just eaten one.  The stuff inside a Butterfinger, on the other hand, is unlike anything I've ever eaten.  It is peanut butter in name only, just as the grape flavor of anything called "grape-flavored" bears no resemblance to the real flavor of grapes.) Second, both are covered with the same kind of milk chocolate, which is good enough for covering something, but

Even though they might sound similar, though, Reese's and Butterfinger are very different.  First of all, a Reese's tastes, as we have already discussed, like peanut butter, while a Butterfinger tastes mainly like Butterfinger stuff.  Second, a Butterfinger is about twice the size of a Reese's.  When you open a Butterfinger, you know that you are in for a job of work if you want to eat it.  Another difference is how easy it is to eat.  Since it's soft, one can eat a Reese's pretty quickly.  Slam it down, brush your teeth, and nobody knows that you've had one.  The inside of a Butterfinger, on the other hand, attaches permanently to your teeth, and can't be removed with anything short of professional dental assistance.  The inside of a Butterfinger--the "peanut butter"--is so strong that you could build houses with it.  When you eat a Butterfinger, you know it--for a long time afterward.

Two candies which may seem, from their descriptions, to have a lot in common are, in fact, very different.  The ingredients may be similar--peanut butter flavor and chocolate--but the results are not.  Fortunately, we are not stuck with one candy or another.