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What is a compare and contrast essay and how to write it?


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Using a computer at Pro-Papers office to write a compare and contrast essay

We compare many things every day without giving much thought to our actions. This particular skill helps us place emphasis on things that are more important to us at a certain moment. As a student of a particular college or university, you receive many written assignments that aim at developing different skills and improving already existing ones. For this particular reason, you may be asked to write a compare and contrast essay.

It is always difficult to compare different things, especially when you know almost nothing about subjects, topics, questions or things that you were asked to compare. However, with our writing guide and tips, as well as, of course, a research on the topic you were given, you will be able to create a perfect essay in no time!

Definition and purpose of writing a compare and contrast essay

It is important to understand the primary goal of the paper as well as compare and contrast essay definition before you start. In such a paper, the person should contrast seemingly similar or, on the contrary, different traits or characteristics of two or more subjects, things, or questions and provide reasoning and importance of his/her observations to prove his or her point or confirm its relevance.

The main goal of writing such an essay is to tell others about things that seem similar but yet different in various ways. However, very often, this assignment serves a specific purpose, and it may be given for such reasons:

  • Clarify uncertain points of a question or topic;
  • Reveal unknown facts or improve knowledge on the already known subject;
  • Tell others about subtle differences or similarities of two objects or questions;
  • Prove a writer's point that one particular thing is better than the other, and so on.

Reasons may vary depending on task requirements; consequently, a student should check them out before getting to the writing part of the assignment.

How to write a good compare and contrast essay?

If you consider yourself a writing guru and are thinking about skipping this part of the article, there is one thing you should understand. Even having outstanding writing skills does not guarantee that your work will be graded highly. They are surely important and will be handy, however, without adequate preparation for the writing process, there is a pretty high chance that you are going to be lost in your own paper 5 minutes after starting it. Thus, having a clear understanding of how to write a good essay and how to prepare to write it is crucial.

Here are some useful tips for writing your compare and contrast essay:

  • Firstly, it is recommended to brainstorm the topic. You will need some time to thoroughly think about the things you are going to contrast. Once you’ve chosen a topic, compose a list of characteristics of each subject you are going to write a paper on.
  • Usually, a student should understand what kind of action he/she is about to accomplish: whether it is necessary to show only differences or produce the paper revealing all details – differences and similarities.
  • Further, you should study objects and questions to be compared and/or contrasted in detail and fill in gaps in knowledge on those topics. After that, it is important to introduce a general topic to the readers and then, offer a specific, more narrow topic that you, as an author, are about to review.
  • Another important detail of any good compare and contrast essay is grammatical and spelling correctness. Thus, be sure to proofread your work and correct possible drawbacks and mistakes.
  • If you want, you may ask for some compare and contrast essay guidelines at the writing center of your university in order to further plan a writing process. People there may also provide you with some tips on the compare contrast format you were asked to use and give you a formatting guide to follow.

Compare and contrast essay outline

Note that it is impossible to learn how to write a college essay well if you do not focus on structuring the work correctly from the very beginning. So, your paper has to be based on the outline that you should create once you do some research on the chosen topic.

There are many ways to structure the paper, and everything depends on you. Just keep in mind that your ideas should be logical, clear, and understandable for any reader, so it is important to provide detailed explanations, although not too lengthy.

When it comes to the structure of a compare and contrast essay, a sample paper will allow you to see the ways your outline may look like:

  • Some of them describe the one subject first and then the other one.
  • Others just switch between points and describe the differences one by one.
  • You can also describe the similarities first and the differences afterward.

It is completely up to you to decide what would be the best option for your paper.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience


How to start compare and contrast essay? Write something interesting! It can be some curious fact that sparks the interest of your audience. Also, do not forget about the hook phrase because this is what actually engages your readers. A perfect introduction identifies the topic, provides some context of the issues under consideration, and of course, intrigues the readers.

Thesis statement

A thesis statement should follow right after the specific topic introduction to put potential readers into the picture of the college compare and contrast essay. In fact, a thesis can take various directions, but the most important thing is that it should explain the point of comparing the chosen subjects. So your main task is to create specific and clear thesis statement, which will be possible to prove further in the text.

Body paragraphs

Body paragraphs go on developing a discussion opened in the introduction. As a rule, it is more interesting for readers to learn about differences and similarities that aren’t apparent at first glance or are unknown at all. Readers will certainly appreciate your attempt to lift the veil of mystery of the compared things.

Start each paragraph by introducing the point you are going to review. Later, support it with credible information and discuss it in 2-3 sentences. Add one more sentence to wrap up the discussion and transition into the next paragraph as smoothly as possible.


As a proverb goes, ‘All is well that ends well.’ Therefore, your conclusion should synthesize all your points in the best way possible.

  • First of all, you have to restate the thesis statement proving your point. Then, support it with some conclusive statements.
  • Avoid using such phrases as “In conclusion” or “To conclude” because your writing would look unnatural.
  • Give your readers some idea to ponder over.
  • The same as with the introduction, make sure that your conclusion is not too long. This part should not be oversaturated with dry facts and long reflections; the main task is to briefly summarize all the ideas and findings.

If you have hard time visualizing how the paper should look like, check out the compare and contrast essay templates in our Samples section. It might give you an idea on how to start writing or finish working on any part of your essay. Good luck!

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