Whether you have been given an assignment to write a comparative essay in one of your classes or you simply have to write a comparative paper for your work, you should always keep in mind that in order to come up with a superb comparative paper, you need to pick two subjects. These will have to have just enough similarities as well as differences so that they can be compared in a substantial and meaningful manner. A very good example would be picking two football teams or different forms of government, preferably competing against each other. As soon as you determine them, you will have to come up with at least two-three points using which you can compare the two elements with the help of researched facts, structured in very well organized paragraphs. This will need to impress and at the same time attract your readers. Writing a comparative essay properly will prove to be an essential skill, one that will most certainly be used often across your student years and professional life.
Developing the Content of the Comparative Essay
1. Analyzing the question or the essay prompt with care:
Even if you have an amazing idea for your report or you have simply been assigned two perfect subjects for comparison, if they do not match the prompt perfectly, you will be unable to deliver the final product your instructors want to see. For this, you need to study the prompt carefully as well as the rubric if one has been given and first of all, underline those key phrases that will play the biggest part in the comparison process. It is highly recommended for you to keep an up-to-date list of them close to you, as you progress.
- Numerous comparative essay subjects actually signal their purpose through keywords such as “contrast”, “compare”, “similarities” or “differences”, and all of them will be included in your prompt.
- Another thing you will have to pay close attention to will be the limits, if any, that might be placed on the given topic.
- If the possibility to choose the subjects is given, you may always consider general themes or ideas such as beauty, love, death or time and develop your essay based on how they have been approached by two different artists of the same era, for example.
2. Understanding the comparison essay type you have been asked to write:
While in most cases, it will be a simple contrast/compare essay, others may require you to start from a contrast/compare framework and find an accurate argument or evaluation in the end, mostly based on your comparisons. For this type of essay, it will not suffice to simply point out the fact that your subjects share some similarities and have some differences.
- This type of assignment generally asks guiding questions. Pay attention to them and write the conclusion in such a way so you answer these questions. This is your main task here: to compare, to analyze the comparison, and to answer the questions.
- However, if you are by any means unclear about the essay prompt, you should consult your instructor. It is always preferable to clarify your questions straight up than to discover later down the line that you have understood everything incorrectly.
3. Listing the differences and similarities between the subjects:
Despite the fact that the nature of the essay you are required to write is comparative, sustainable and plausible contrasting material has to be included in your paper by default. Thus, the best possible way you could start would be by writing a list of aspects that the two subjects you are about to compare share as well as the aspects that establish differences between them.
4. Evaluating your list:
Chances are that you will be limited by space and will not be able to address all the items present on your initial list. Thus, you should review your list carefully and identify the patterns or the main theme of the items you included in it. This is highly likely to help you with the basis for the comparison.
- A great way to proceed would be for you to develop a method or a system, aiming to highlight different types of similarities. You can do it by using different font colors if you write your essay in a word processor or markers if you prefer to do things the traditional way.
- The best example would be the comparison of two novels, for which you could highlight the similarities between their characters in green, the settings in blue, and the message or theme in yellow.
5. Establishing the basis of your comparison:
This part will create and provide the context of your comparison and will determine how you will be examining the two subjects. Besides many other things, this basis could represent a theoretical approach, for example, multiculturalism or feminism, a problem or a question that you are aiming to provide an answer to, or a historical theme like emancipation or colonialism. Your comparison will also need to have a thesis, preferably a specific one, or it should at least cover the idea that will determine the reason behind your decision to compare the two distinct objects.
- In most cases, the basis of the comparison will be directly assigned to you. That’s why make sure to check the assignment and the prompt thoroughly.
- The basis for a comparison might be related to a theme, a set of characteristics, or some particular details about the two different subjects.
- The basis of the comparison is also commonly known as the “grounds” or the “frame of reference”.
6. Researching the subjects of the comparison:
Despite the fact that you will want to reach a thorough understanding of each subject, you should pay attention not to include more details than your assignment can actually handle. Restrict yourself to comparing a few key aspects of each subject rather than covering both topics in an extremely detailed and comprehensive manner.
- Sometimes, research may not be required or even appropriate for a particular assignment. If the comparative essay you were assigned to write is not meant to contain research, you should refrain from including it.
- Comparative essays about social issues, historical events or science will be more likely to demand research, while the comparison of works of literature is less likely to need it.
- Always make sure to cite your research data properly and always make sure to do it in accordance with the guidelines.
7. Developing a thesis statement:
Any qualitative comparative essay should be governed by a concise and clear thesis statement. You still need to express in one sentence the main reason why you compare the two subjects. A good comparison should always reveal something essential about the features of each item involved as well as their relationship. From this point on, your thesis should express this argument.
Organizing the Content
1. Outlining your comparison:
You should establish a strategy of organization right before starting to write. One of the unique features of a comparative paper is that it allows you to choose between multiple organizational strategies.
- You can always use a traditional format of the outline, yet even a classic list of bullet-points will help you present your ideas in the order you want.
- Sticky notes are always of great help in this direction, you can put your main ideas on them so that you can keep re-arranging them until you decide on the final order.
2. Using the mixed paragraphs method:
This can be described as addressing both subjects of the comparison in each of the paragraphs. Thus, the first paragraph should compare the first aspect of each of the two subjects, the second one the second aspect, and so forth. One thing that you need to always have in mind is maintaining the same order across all paragraphs.
- This structure has the main advantage of always keeping the comparison fresh in the mind of the readers while at the same time forcing the writer to pay equal attention to each side.
- This method is best used for very long essays that address complicated subjects that could confuse both the writer and the readers easily.
3. Alternating the subjects in all paragraphs:
This method implies devoting each paragraph to one of the two subjects and alternating them. Thus, the first paragraph should address an aspect of the first subject, while the following paragraph will address the same aspect of the second subject, and so forth. You will need to address each of the two subjects in the exact same order.
- The main advantage of this structure is that of allowing much more space for discussing your points in greater detail.
- This particular method is mostly recommended for essays where in-depth analysis and detailing are required.
4. Covering one subject after another thoroughly:
This refers to the initial set of body paragraphs, which are separated into two parts. Each part will address one subject focusing on all its aspects that are to be compared. Maintaining the aspect order is essential, and you should always make sure to double check as it is easy to get carried away and mix up the order of the aspects.
- This is by far the most complicated method, as your comparison can become both difficult and one-sided in the eyes of your readers.
- This method is recommended strictly for short, simplistic essays so that readers can easily remember the initial characteristics of each subject without getting confused.
Writing the Comparative Essay
As soon as you master the best structuring techniques for your comparative essay, picking the most suitable for you and starting to write is all that’s left to do. However, in order to facilitate the process, the following techniques may come in handy.
1. Writing your essay in an unspecified order:
Even though the most reasonable manner of writing seems to be from start to finish, this may not only prove much harder but may also have the potential to disrupt your thoughts. Writing the body paragraphs first, the conclusion second, and the introduction after all is finished will considerably speed up and ease the process.
2. Writing the body paragraphs:
The topic sentence of each body paragraph should prepare the audience for what’s about to come next. Thus, you should decide the points of comparison to include in each paragraph and organize your paragraphs accordingly.
3. Writing the conclusion:
When it comes to the final chapter of the essay, you should try to make your audience feel like they have learned something of value so that they don’t keep looking for missing pages, thinking there’s more to come. Thus, a proper conclusion should open with a brief but eloquent summary of the entire essay, only to draw a large final conclusion regarding the two addressed subjects. You should always base this conclusion on undeniable data rather than your own personal experience or preferences, especially if the prompt requires a neutral tone for the entire essay. As for the final ending sentence of your essay, it should make the readers feel that they have indeed reached the end of a cohesive and compelling comparison.
Revising Your Essay
It is commonly known that the best way to revise your own work is to wait before re-reading it. Clearing your mind of all the recently apprehended data will allow you to review your work with fresh eyes and from a clear perspective. As for the process itself, its main goal is that of identifying problems and fixing them, two things that should be done separately. When you are absolutely sure that you have checked everything and identified all mistakes, you can then proceed to correct them and thus, receive the final version of your compelling comparative essay.