Compare and contrast essay definition

Compare and contrast essay definition

What is a Comparison / Contrast Essay?

A comparison shows how two subjects are similar; a contrast shows how two subjects are different. People compare and contrast in both writing and life. In writing, you must first decide whether you will compare, contrast or both. Follow these steps when writing a comparison / contrast essay.

1. Identify similarities and differences.

If you have three items to compare or contrast, figure out how they are similar and how they are different.

  • You will need to find at least three points for comparison / contrast.
  • Write detailed characteristics for each point.

Let’s say you want to compare three seasons.

hot, sunny, tornadoes

very cold, windy, snow, flurries

cool, frost, sleet

green, blue, yellow

grey, orange, red, purple, brown

swimming, sailing, beach, baseball

skiing, ice skating, bowling

2. State your purpose in the thesis sentence.

Identify the three subjects that you will compare and state whether you will focus on similarities, differences, or both. The thesis may also indicate which points you will compare / contrast.

3. Choose a pattern to organize your essay.

The two major patterns for organizing a comparison/contrast essay are:

Subject by Subject (Whole-to-whole). Your write first about one of your subjects, covering it completely, and then you write about the other, covering it completely. Each subject is addressed in a separate paragraph. The points of comparison or contrast will be the same for each subject and will be presented in the same order.

The following is an example of subject by subject organization:

Comparison and Contrast Essay

Definition of Comparison and Contrast Essay

A comparison and contrast essay compares two similar objects, or contrasts dissimilar objects, in a way that readers become informed about the advantages and disadvantages of both the objects. Readers are then able to weigh pros and cons of the objects compared and contrasted to select a better product. It, however, does not mean that it is only a comparison or contrast of products, it could be a situation after which readers are to make a decision, weighing pros and cons. Although a comparison and contrast essay is set to demonstrate both similarities as well as differences, sometimes it only shows similarities, and at other times, only differences.

Difference Between a Division/Classification and Comparison/Contrast Essay

A division and classification essay, like comparison and contrast essay, is also an analysis essay whose objective is to break a thing or idea, or an essay into bits for analysis. A comparison and contrast essay, however, intends to point out qualities and deficiencies in things, or explain bad and good aspects of an issue. This is mostly done for decision making purposes.

Examples of Comparison and Contrast Essay in Literature

Example #1: A Slow Walk of Trees (by Toni Morrison)

“His name was John Solomon Willis, and when at age 5 he heard from the old folks that “the Emancipation Proclamation was coming,” he crawled under the bed. It was his earliest recollection of what was to be his habitual response to the promise of white people: horror and an instinctive yearning for safety. He was my grandfather, a musician who managed to hold on to his violin but not his land. He lost all 88 acres of his Indian mother’s inheritance to legal predators who built their fortunes on the likes of him. He was an unreconstructed black pessimist who, in spite of or because of emancipation, was convinced for 85 years that there was no hope whatever for black people in this country. His rancor was legitimate, for he, John Solomon, was not only an artist but a first-rate carpenter and farmer, reduced to sending home to his family money he had made playing the violin because he was not able to find work. And this during the years when almost half the black male population were skilled craftsmen who lost their jobs to white ex-convicts and immigrant farmers.”

This passage compares two types of attitudes about the author’s grandfather; one of the black community and the other of the response of the white to this blackness.

Example #2: Reality TV: Surprising Throwback to The Past? (by Patricia Cohen)

“To many critics, Cupid and other matchmaking shows that mix money and real-life marital machinations represent a cynical and tasteless new genre that is yet another sign of America’s moral decline. But there’s something familiar about the fortune hunters, the status seekers, the thwarted loves, the meddling friends, the public displays, the comic manners, and the sharp competitiveness—all find their counterparts in Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. Only now, three-minute get-to-know-you tryouts in a TV studio substitute for three-minute waltzes at a ball. Traditional family values, it turns out, are back on television after all.”

In this passage, Patricia Cohen compares two attitudes: one of materialism, and the other of morality. She bemoans moral decline, but praises the literary taste.

Example #3: Euromail and Amerimail (by Eric Weiner)

“Euromail is stiff and cold, often beginning with a formal ‘Dear Mr. X,’ and ending with a brusque ‘Sincerely.’ You won’t find any mention of kids or the weather or jellyfish in Euromail. It’s all business. It’s also slow. Your correspondent might take days, even weeks, to answer a message. Euromail is also less confrontational in tone, rarely filled with the overt nastiness that characterizes American e-mail disagreements. In other words, Euromail is exactly like the Europeans themselves. (I am, of course, generalizing. German e-mail style is not exactly the same as Italian or Greek, but they have more in common with each other than they do with American mail.)”

In this passage, Eric Weiner compares euromail and Amerimail to point out the drawbacks of one, and highlight the qualities of the other.

Functions of a Comparison and Contrast Essay

A comparison and contrast essay helps readers reach a critical decision. It could be a comparison and contrast of two products, two objects, two things, or two issues. Readers read the essays, weigh all aspects, and then decide whether to make a purchase and decide in favor of one thing or not. This type of essay also makes readers more cognizant of the situations or issues discussed.

Compare & Contrast Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 How Do I Compare?
  • 0:50 How Do I Contrast?
  • 1:44 Mapping It Out
  • 2:08 Lesson Summary

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Jeremy has been teaching in elementary education for 13 years and holds a master’s degree in Education

How do I Compare?

Have you ever had to make a decision between two things? Maybe you wanted two toys but could only get one. How did you pick which one you wanted? Most likely you used compare and contrast skills to decide. When we compare and contrast, it’s generally between two things. When we compare, we look to see what is the same about the two things. The more related to each other the things are, the more there is to compare.

If we were to compare an apple and an orange, we would look at what things are the same or similar between the two. For example:

  • They are both fruit.
  • They both grow on trees.
  • They are both round.
  • They both can be eaten.

These are some of the things they have in common, so they fall into the compare category.

How Do I Contrast?

Contrasting is the opposite of comparing. When we are contrasting, we are looking at the differences in the two things. The key to contrasting is to find one aspect of something and then figure out how that aspect is different in the other. Sound confusing? Let’s look at an example.

In the example of an apple and orange, we know that oranges have thick skin and apples don’t. In order to contrast, we have to think ‘if the orange has thick skin, what does the apple have?’ Apples have thin skin. So we would say: oranges have thick skin, and apples have thin skin.

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We can’t contrast with ‘not’ or ‘don’t’. For example, if we compared a frog and a human, we can’t say a frog lives in the pond and a human doesn’t live in the pond. We have to find the direct contrast: frogs live in the pond and humans live in a house.

Mapping it Out

Many people will use a special visual map called a Venn Diagram to help compare and contrast. A Venn Diagram is two circles that intersect with each other. Each circle is labeled with the thing you want to compare. The parts of the circle that intersect form a space to put the compare information in. In the part of the circles that don’t cross, we put the contrasting information.

Lesson Summary

Comparing and contrasting is looking at what is the same and what is different between two things. Comparing is looking at what is similar, and contrasting is looking at the differences. A Venn Diagram can be used to write down and visually show comparing and contrasting.