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What Is a Compare-Contrast Essay?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated May 23, 2024
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A compare-contrast essay is an essay in which the author describes how certain things are alike as well as how they are different. This type of essay is often assigned in school, to help students develop observational and descriptive skills. The compare-contrast essay may be used to describe physical or nonphysical characteristics of the items being discussed, or a combination of both.

When writing a compare-contrast essay, the first thing the author must do is to select those things that will be compared and contrasted. Two comparable subjects are chosen, such as works by two authors, two kinds of pets, two cities, two kinds of cars or anything else that are basically the same. This type of essay is never written with two completely different subjects, such as a car and a city, a pet and a person or any other things that are not essentially similar.

A compare-contrast essay begins with a thesis statement, which is the most important part of the essay. This sentence sets up the rest of the essay, making it clear what things will be discussed in the essay as well as an overall statement about how they are the same and how they are different. The thesis statement should bring up the main idea of the essay by introducing the subjects to be compared and contrasted, and it should include a brief mention of how they are the same and how they are different. The rest of the compare-contrast essay should be spent backing up this statement with facts and observations.

The individual items in the compare-contrast essay should each have a theme related to the main subject of the paper. The paragraphs can be organized in one of two ways. The first way is to present all of the information about one subject, followed by all of the information about the other one. Alternatively, the paragraphs can jump back and forth, the first one discussing the first item, the second paragraph covering the second item, then back to the first one for the next paragraph, and so forth, until the items have both been fully described. Either way is acceptable.

At the conclusion of a compare-contrast essay, the author must explain how the facts presented earlier prove his or her thesis statement from the first paragraph. The points regarding each item, as presented in the body of the essay, should be briefly summarized. Finally, the compare-contrast essay ends by tying the thesis statement into the summary information, logically demonstrating the truth of the original statement.

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