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English Writing

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Writing a Compare / Contrast Essay

When you compare two things, you show what they have in common, and when you contrast things, you show their differences.

Compare and contrast essays are one of the most common essays a student will encounter. You will be answering a specific question, "How do these two things compare,", or "What makes them different?" Sometimes you might be asked to do both. This makes them fairly easy to complete.

There are several ways to write this type of essay. The most important thing to remember is structure.

Choosing what to write about

You have to identify two things that are linked in some way, there should be similarities as well as differences. Don't try to compare chalk and cheese.

Make sure the topics you choose are something you're interested in, and preferably knowledgeable about, or at least something you can research easily.

For example: You could write about two ideas, events, jobs, people, or organisations. The list is endless.

How to start

Once you've decided on two things, try writing a list of what they have in common and what is different about them. If lists aren't your thing try using a Venn diagram to illustrate your points. Once you've done this look at your list and think about what is important, interesting and what you've learnt.

If you struggle here, you might want to consider a different theme.

You can start your essay with a question, a relevant quotation, or an anecdote that leads you into the body of the essay.

You need to introduce the two things you will be writing about, and give the reader an idea of why you are comparing them.

How to continue

You can structure the main part of the essay in a couple of ways.

1. Split the topics and discuss them separately:-

  • In the first section, discuss the first topic without mentioning the second one.
  • Then start a new section and discuss the second topic, only alluding to the first one if necessary.
  • Once you've analysed both topics independently, bring them together in the third section.

2. Compare the topics together:-

  • Write about how your two topics are different.
  • Write about how your two topics are similar.
  • Try to find at least 3 things that are similar and 3 things that are different.

Whichever style you choose don't forget to support your arguments, include examples that prove the similarities and/or differences exist, and provide evidence or sources for any position you take. Don't just regurgitate your list of similarities and differences, it should be interesting and informative.

How to end

In your conclusion avoid repeating things that you have already discussed, but summarise the most important similarities and differences. Think about what you want the reader to remember and what the reader can learn from the ideas you've presented.

Don't forget to tidy it up and proofread it before presenting it to the world (see narrative essays). Make sure everything flows and make any necessary changes to the sequence.

Writing Compare / Contrast Essays in Class

When you're writing for a class assignment, keep the following in mind:-
  • Some topics ask only for comparison, others only for contrast, and others for both. The clue is in the title you're given.
  • Conclusion writing is important.
  • When you're writing for a class you know you've got at least one reader who'll have to read everything - your teacher.
  • You might be given a choice of particular topics, try to choose something you're passionate about.
  • You might be given a topic to write about. Try to stick to the point, make sure you don't ramble off topic.
  • Use appropriate links and connections between paragraphs to make your point.
  • When writing is done in the class you shouldn't need to go beyond a few hundred words. Only write what is necessary and make sure you use those words effectively, don't use long-winded terms where one word will do.
  • You'll be under a time constraint too, which is why you should practise lots so that it becomes less of an effort.

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