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Classification And Comparison Contrast Essay

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of comparison and contrast in writing.
  2. Explain organizational methods used when comparing and contrasting.
  3. Understand how to write a compare-and-contrast essay.

The Purpose of Comparison and Contrast in Writing

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or both.

The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.

Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

Writing at Work

Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast. Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals.

Exercise 1

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.

  1. Romantic comedies
  2. Internet search engines
  3. Cell phones

Exercise 2

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.

  1. Department stores and discount retail stores
  2. Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
  3. Dogs and cats

The Structure of a Comparison and Contrast Essay

The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  1. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other
  2. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

See Figure 10.1 “Comparison and Contrast Diagram”, which diagrams the ways to organize our organic versus conventional vegetables thesis.

Figure 10.1 Comparison and Contrast Diagram

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table 10.3 “Phrases of Comparison and Contrast” for examples.

Table 10.3 Phrases of Comparison and Contrast

ComparisonContrast
one similarityone difference
another similarityanother difference
bothconversely
likein contrast
likewiseunlike
similarlywhile
in a similar fashionwhereas

Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay

First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample compare-and-contrast essay.

Writing at Work

Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague have to present something at work.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the outlines you created in Note 10.75 “Exercise 3”, and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.

Key Takeaways

  • A compare-and-contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
  • The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
  • The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
  • There are two main organizing strategies for compare-and-contrast essays.

    1. Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
    2. Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.
  • Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.

This is a derivative of Writing for Success by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

COMPARISON AND CONTRAST

Another useful organizational pattern is comparison and contrast. At the outset a clarification of these terms is important. If your teacher says to write a contrast paragraph or theme, he is obviously asking you to discuss the dissimilarities of two (usually, though there may be more) people, things, objects, etc. But, if your teacher asks for a comparison of two (usually, though there may be more) people or things, he does not necessarily mean to find only similarities. Comparison and contrast are broad terms which indicate you are to judge two people or objects or institutions or whatever against a set of principles.

One of the best ways to learn how to use comparison and contrast is to learn what not to do. First, make sure your components are comparable. Comparing Jimmy Carter and Charles Manson would be as foolish as comparing baseballs and house cats. Comparing the former President of the United States, former Governor of Georgia, Annapolis graduate, and dedicated Christian to a convicted murderer would be futile except in a sociology class. Comparing Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon or Charles Manson and Richard Speck would be more productive. Even a contrast of Carter and Manson would be difficult, since outside of being male humans, they have nothing in common. In both comparison and contrast, there must be some relation, some common ground between the two elements.

The Comparison/Contrast Paragraph

There are two methods for organizing a comparison/contrast paragraph: The consecutive method and the simultaneous method.

7.The Consecutive Method:

In the consecutive method, you present your information on one of the subjects you are comparing and then, introduced by an appropriate transition word or phrase (such as similarly or on the other hand), you present the corresponding information for the second component of the comparison. For example, if you were comparing SUV'sand compact cars using as criteria gas mileage, handling, and passenger space, your consecutively developed comparison paragraph might look something like this:

When the average American family goes to buy a new car, it is faced with a difficult decision because of the variety of automobiles. After weeding out the impossibilities, most families have to choose between the SUV and the compact, both of which have good and bad features. The compact gets excellent gas mileage, from thirty to forty miles per gallon. With the price of gasoline climbing toward $2.00 per gallon, this is no small consideration. Handling is another positive factor of a compact car. Its size almost guarantees excellent maneuverability and the ability to squeeze into those half spaces in the parking lot. Space for people and cargo, however, is limited. For the large family, the car pool, or the long vacation, these cars are not ideal. The SUV, on the other hand, would be excellent for these types of families and activities. It has plenty of room to seat six adults with space left over for luggage, the family dog, or more people. Obviously this large size means handling is somewhat awkward. Also, owing to its largeness, the SUV does not get the gas mileage a compact does, and the owner can count on more frequent and more expensive stops at the pump. The family buying a new car should certainly consider these two and carefully weigh the characteristics of each.

Part one of this comparison—the compact car—is more fully developed than part two—the SUV. There are six sentences about the compact and only four about the station wagon. In the consecutive method, giving a fuller development of the first member is necessary to set forth the groundsof the comparison clearly. The two sentences about the compact's gas mileage give definite mileage figures and point out the irrevocable rise in petroleum prices. The discussion of the SUV's mileage can be much shorter, implying that it gets considerably fewer miles per gallon in a time when gas is costly. This method for developing a comparison/contrast is clear and effective as well as time saving.

The points covered in each part of consecutive organization may follow the same order (A1, 2, 3 + B 1, 2, 3 ) or they may follow an inverted order as in the model paragraph above (A 1, 2, 3 +B 3, 2, 1): compact (gas mileage, handling, passenger space); transition; station wagon (passenger space, handling, gas mileage).

2.The Simultaneous Method:

The other means of organizing a comparison, the simultaneous method, uses a point by point comparison and is, perhaps, more suited to a full length theme although an effective paragraph can be written in this manner. A paragraph comparing the same two types of automobiles using the simultaneous method of organization might look something like this:

When the average American family goes to buy a new car, it is faced with a difficult decision because of the variety of automobiles. After weeding out the impossibilities, most families have to choose between the SUV and the compact, both of which have good and bad features. The compact gets excellent gas mileage, from thirty to forty miles per gallon. With the price of gasoline climbing toward $2.00 per gallon, this is no small consideration. On the other hand, the SUV, because of its largeness, does not get such good mileage, and the owner can expect to make more frequent and more expensive stops at the pump. Handling is another positive feature of the compact. Its size almost guarantees excellent maneuverability and the ability to squeeze into those half spaces in the parking lot. Since at least one compact car would fit into an SUV, it is easy to see that handling this larger vehicle is going to be somewhat awkward. For the large family, the car pool, or the long vacation, a compact car is not ideal. The SUV, conversely, would be excellent for these types of families and activities. It has plenty of room to seat six adults with space left over for luggage, the family dogs and cats, or other people. The family buying a new car should certainly consider these two kinds of automobiles carefully and weigh the characteristics of each.

Notice that each point of comparison appears with each component being compared simultaneously: gas mileage, compact/SUV; handling, compact/SUV; passenger space, compact/SUV. A diagram of this kind of development looks like this: A/B 1 + A/B 2 + A/B 3.

A Hazard to Avoid: inadequate development

The writer needs to be sure that he has valid bases for comparison; however, detailed development is also very important. With these two detailed comparison paragraphs in mind, let's look at one, on the same topic, which would not be adequately developed

Families going to buy a new car face a tough decision. After the completely unsuitable cars have been weeded out, the choice will be between a compact car and an SUV. The compact is a nice car for a small family or as a second car. It gets good gas mileage and would be excellent to let the teenager take out on a date so that he wouldn't use up too much of his money on fuel. The SUV is quite large and would be a good car to take on a vacation because the entire family and all their gear could fit in easily. One of these two cars would be a good choice for any family.

This paragraph is not a comparison or contrast. In fact, it is not much of anything. There is no organizational plan—short of having the discussion of compacts come before thediscussion of SUVs. There are no bases for a comparison (such as gas mileage, space, etc.). This paragraph is a collection of bits of information on two types of cars, but the bits have no relation to one another.

The Comparison/Contrast Essay

Writing a comparison essay, like writing a classification essay, involves a littlemore development than does the paragraph. To turn the consecutive sample comparison paragraph intoan essay requires expanding the introductory sentences into a paragraph, expanding the discussion of compacts to a paragraph, expanding the discussion of SUV's to a paragraph, and expanding the concluding sentence to a paragraph. In addition to these expansions, you also have to supply transition from one topic of your comparison to the other. The result might look likethis:

THESIS

(A + B)

(A)

When the average American family goes to buy a new car, it is faced with a difficult decision because of the variety of automobiles. Not all, however, are suitable for the "average" family, with its middle income and 2.3 children. The flashy sports car and the luxury limousine are not practical in this instance. After weeding out the impossibilities, most families have to choose between the SUV and the compact, both of which have good and bad features.

(B)

The compact gets excellent gas mileage, (from thirty to forty miles per gallon), and with the price of gasoline climbing rapidly toward $2.00 per gallon, this is no small consideration. For this reason the compact would make an excellent second car to use on those around town errands without spending a fortune on gas. It would also make a good car for a teenager to take out on a date because he could spend his money on his girl rather than on gas. Handling is another positive factor. The compact's size almost guarantees maneuverability in traffic and the ability to squeeze into those half spaces in the parking lot. Any city driver can appreciate easy handling in rush hour traffic. Lack of interior space is somewhat of a drawback. For the large family, the car pool, or the long vacation this car is not ideal. Four adults can fit in a compact—if they are not too tall. As for luggage, well, the owner had better plan to travel light.

The SUV, on the other hand, would be excellent for the large family, the car pool, or the long vacation. It has plenty of room to seat six adults with room left over for luggage, the family dogs, or sundries. For the family that needs plenty of space in a car, the SUV would be ideal. Obviously this large size means handling is somewhat awkward. For scooting around town or finding a parking space at the ball game, this large car is a liability. Also owing to its size, the SUV does not get the gas mileage a compact does and the owner can expect to make more frequent trips to the pump. This factor would be a drawback in using this car as a second car for running around town in, and the poor teenager who has to take this car on a date had better find a girl satisfied with watching cars go through the Robowash and a burger afterwards.

ENDING

(A + B)

Choosing between these two cars is a matter of what the family members want. If they want good mileage and handling but don't need much interior space, then the compact is ideal. If the family is more concerned with the amount of room inside the car than with the other two factors, then the SUV is the car for them.

A comparison contrast essay can also be organized on a point by point basis, the simultaneous method. After the introductory paragraph, you would have a paragraph discussing the gas mileage of both cars (A/B{), then a paragraph discussing the handling of both cars (A/B2), and finally a paragraph discussing the passenger space in both cars (A/B3). After that, of course, comes the concluding paragraph.

Sometimes, in organizing a comparison you may want to alter your theme structure by saving your most striking comparison or contrast until last so that your points are arranged in ascending order of importance or climatic order. In the sample theme on cars, the climactic order would be interior space, then handling, then mileage, as cost of operation is probably the main factor to the average family. This arrangement allows you to conclude your theme in the last body paragraph—with appropriate concluding comments—and forego a concluding paragraph altogether.

PROCESS ANALYSIS

Process analysis is a rhetorical pattern used to explain the chronological steps involved in how to do something or how something was done, and is probably an organizational pattern that you will use most frequently in your career writing situations, especially in technical occupations. Also, mastery of this rhetorical pattern is useful in filling out various forms and reports.

In writing a process analysis for an English course where you have some choice as to your topic, there is one theorem to remember: The value of the grade is frequently dependent on the quality of the topic. This means that choosing your topic might be like choosing the dive you want to execute in an Olympic-style diving competition. Judges award points on how well the dives are performed, but each dive has a degree of difficulty. Therefore, a simple dive perfectly executed may receive fewer points than a difficult dive that is just less than perfect. The same principle applies to writing a process analysis. A simple topic perfunctorily treated equals mediocrity.

There are two types of process analysis: the directional and the informational. The first tells how to do something, and the second tells how something came or comes about. The informational process is generally more sophisticated and requires more thought to execute. Let's look at three topics that demonstrate the preceding comments. These are arranged in ascending order of difficulty: "How to Mend an 8-Track Tape," "How to Budget a Paycheck," and "How Religious Cults Evolve." The first two are directional; the third is informational. All three require some knowledge or expertise: The first requires some skill and knowledge and would be useful if someone in the reading audience had a number of frazzled tapes; the second is certainly useful to anyone short of Nelson Rockefeller; the third, however, demands the writer have some definite facts at his command. (Obviously, if you are the writer and know nothing about budgeting, have no notion what a religious cult is, but are somewhat of an authority on 8-track tape repair, your choice is already made.) In any case you want to impress your reader not only with your abilityto put words, phrases, and sentences together without error but also with your store of knowledge on the subject you have chosen.


The Process Paragraph

7.The Directional Process:

To write a directional process analysis paragraph, all you have to do is isolate the chronological steps. This statement is somewhat misleading in that the steps may not always be easily identifiable, and in this kind of process theme, sometimes you must arbitrarily impose a framework around the steps. For example, in a directional process theme on how to change a tire, you would not want to allot a paragraph to each step because your theme would be a series of one or two sentence paragraphs. To avoid this rhetorical disaster, you must impose an artificial framework around your process. You might devote a paragraph to allthe steps you take before jacking up the car, a paragraph to the steps performed while the car is jacked up, and a paragraph to the steps followed after letting the car down. Superimposing this order on your process takes only a little extra time before you begin writing and is very worthwhile.

Let's look at an example of a directional process paragraph. A diagram of this process would look like this: Process = Step{+ Step2+ Step^. . . .

Repairing an 8-track tape does not require a great deal of ability and is a necessary skill for anyone who owns these tapes. If a tape breaks, it can easily be spliced by overlapping the two ends produced by the break. When they are overlapped, the tape sides should match, glossy side with glossy side. Next, one should make a diagonal cut across the overlapped ends. And last, the two diagonally cut edges are placed carefully together and taped with splicing tape. Anyone who owns an 8-track tape should master this process unless he has enough money to buy a new tape every time one breaks.

2.The Informational Process:

This type of process analysis paragraph will also require you to isolate some chronological steps. Sometimes, though, isolating these is quite difficult because you are looking at the result of the process and must exercise logic to work back through steps to get to square one. Logical thinking in arranging the steps of a directional process is necessary and readily apparent also—you cannot tape the edges of an 8-track tape back together untilyou have snipped them apart—but in an informational process, logic is even more important since there may be a good deal of subtlety involved in this type of analysis. The topic "How Religious Cults are Formed" may seem an unwieldy one, but with some reflection you can arrive at a plausible series of activities leading up to a cult. Let's look at a sample paragraph on this topic. Again, the diagram would look like this: Process = Step] + Step2 + Step}. . . .

Getting a massive religious cult following involves more than announcing the formation of a cult and letting the sheep flock to the door. The first step the proposed leader must take in getting his cult together is to identify his audience. Since people's needs and ideals are so varied, he must avoid a broad appeal, which is apt to go unnoticed, and concentrate on a certain segment of the population, that is, specialize his appeal. Next, he must strip the faithful of their contacts with the rest of the world. This step involves their turning money and belongings over to the cult or the cult leader himself and, frequently, renouncing friends and family outside the cult. Last, most important and most difficult, the leader must cut his followers off from outside information sources so that he can control what they know and, therefore, how they think. Anyone who can accomplish this process will be a full-fledged cult leader.

Hazards to Avoid

The principal mistakes in this pattern of organization are getting steps out of place—carts before horses—and omitting steps necessary for your reader's clear understanding. To avoid both, jot down the steps before you begin writing to be sure each is dependent on thepreceding one. This planwillalso help you to avoid the second mistake because you can make sure your steps are logically complete and your reader will not have to make any unwarranted "leaps" from point to point.

Another hazard to avoid is trying to make a process topic that is complete in one paragraph into a theme. The 8-track tape paragraph, for example, defies further development. The only information you could add to expand it to theme length would not challenge your reader's intellect nor increase his knowledge nor reward his aesthetic sense.

The Process Analysis Theme

Developing a process analysis theme from a process analysis paragraph involves the same procedure discussed earlier. We will develop the paragraph on cults since the 8-track tape paragraph is already a completed process. A theme on cults might look something like the following:

THESIS

(Slept + Step2

(Step,)

Step, .

(Step,)

(Step,)

ENDING

(Step, + Step: + Step,)

The incredible influence of cult leaders over their following came brutally to the public eye with the massive suicides in Guyana. To understand why those people killed themselves, one must understand how the cult leader won control of them. Getting a large cult following involves more than announcing the formation of a new cult and letting the sheep flock to the door. There are three definite steps in the process of getting and controlling a cult following.

First, the proposed leader must identify his audience. Since people's needs and ideals are so varied, he must avoid broad appeal, which is apt to go unnoticed, and concentrate on a special group, that is, tailor his package for a specific market. Usually the best market is the downtrodden, poor, or disaffected. These people have been given nothing by society—by the land of milk and honey—or what they have gotten from society has been unsatisfactory. The poor and minority groups have none of the "good things" of American life. Some middle and upper income people have all the material comforts society says are necessary for survival, but they feel emotionally or spiritually desolate. These groups are the audience the proposed leader must reach by promising them the material security or emotional comfort they are not getting from the outside world.

Next, the leader must strip his followers of their contacts with the rest of the world. This step involves the members' turning over their money and belongings to the cult or the leader himself, and frequently they must also renounce family and friends on the outside. Such allegiance is necessary to prevent any backsliding or slipping back into society. As well, putting all the money in one person's hands allows him to hand out the same share to everyone. In the cult society, except for the leader, there are no rich or poor; society's outcasts have as much as everyone else around them and the affluent are rewarded spiritually seeing their money benefit the cause.

Last, more important and most difficult, the leader must cut his followers off from outside information sources so that he can control what they know and, therefore, what they think. Any news medium or its representative is a threat because it can at any time torpedo the ideals of the cult and expose the leader as a charlatan. Reverend Jones had the best solution in going to a relatively remote uncivilized country because this escape is very difficult in America. Isolation from the media allows the leader to paint society in general as the "enemy." Since his members are already dissatisfied with the world, it is quite easy for them to accept the distortions their leader presents. This step is the culmination of the process and can succeed only if the previous two steps have been executed skillfully. Not every cult leader has the success of a Jim Jones, but if all would follow this process, their notoriety would be insured.

As with comparison/contrast, the process analysis theme can be concluded without a concluding paragraph per se. Since the steps of a process analysis are chronological, the last thing you discuss is a final touch or a conclusion in itself. Notice that the cult theme has no concluding paragraph, but it is rounded off in the final body paragraph, implying a conclusion and not leaving the reader hanging.