When you write a comparative essay you take one or more things and compare and contrast them. You can note the similarities, the differences, or you can do both. You will be told what the expectations are when you are given your essay, but most essays of this nature follow a similar pattern.
Comparing and contrasting
If you are comparing something then you are noting the things that are the same as well as the things that may be different. You can note only differences, and may note only similarities, or you can mix it up.
When you contrast something then you only note the differences. If you are writing a comparative essay then your professor probably wants you to show the similarities and the differences in one essay.
The direction you go in – the point of your essay
It may be to bring one or more subjects into focus. For example, you may compare the invasion of Afghanistan with the invasion of Vietnam in order to bring the Afghan invasion into focus.
Your essay may exist to clarify something. It may exist to make something that is unclear more clear. This can be done by expressing the similarities and differences of two or more things. For example, you may want to show people what it was like at Disney World so you compare it with elements of other theme parks and amusement.
It may be the gain fresh insight or to give the reader a new way of viewing something. This is a trick pulled by a lot of African based charities. They will compare the African people to people in America so that the Americans can more easily emphasize. They even show images of African houses that look similar to those in American suburbs.
Many times a comparative essay is done to show how one thing is better than another or several others. This also brings home the point that one element of your comparison need not be as developed as the others. For example, if you were comparing one thing to many, then the “one” thing may need more development than the several other things that it is being compared with.
The most common use of a comparative essay is to show that one thing is better than the other is. If that is the case then be careful you do not slip into persuasive essay territory, unless that is the purpose of your essay.
How you may structure your essay
This is something you should decide during the planning phase. There are several structures you may use, and the most basic three are “point by point compare and contrast”, “Subject by subject compare and contrast” or “comparisons in a block, then contrasts in a block.”
A simple example of block structure
Add in your context and background but not too much as it should be a short introduction.
A clear thesis statement should show your comparison and any pre-conclusions you intend to prove.
Give further background and context so you may dive right into comparing and contrasting without having to justify each point and without having to give background for each point you compare and contrast.
– Compare subject and points
Enter your similarities for the consideration of the reader. Enter them one after the other.
– Contrast subject and points
Enter your contrasts for the consideration of the reader. You may reference the similarities you have already entered, but this may make your essay more difficult to read. If you find you have to keep referencing back and forth between similarities and differences then consider a different essay structure.
Bring your essay to a conclusion and draw on the bigger points you made.
A simple example of point by point
Your introduction should be short, should give background information and should put your essay topic in context.
If you have any pre-conclusions that you wish to prove then this is the place to put them, otherwise you are simply saying what you are going to compare.
– Point & details
Enter the point you wish to examine and give enough background detail. The points you bring up are all related, which is different to a subject-by-subject structure as the subjects need not be related.
– Contrast and compare
Compare and contrast the point you just made. Repeat the cycle as often as needed in order to conclude successful.
Remark upon your thesis and the points you compared and contrasted and conclude.
A simple example of subject-by-subject
Make your introduction short, give your topic a context and give people the background details they need.
You tell the reader what you are going to compare with your thesis, and if you have any points you intend to prove then you enter them here so you may call back to them in your conclusion.
– Subject & details
Bring up the subject of your choose and go into detail so that the reader understands fully. Explore the subject point by point if you wish.
– Contrast and compare
The subject and its relevant points may now be compared and contrasted.
Again, bring up a subject, give details and explore it point by point before comparing and contrasting. The subjects you raise do not have to be related to each other.
Explain how your thesis relates to what you have written and bring up any major/conclusive points in order to conclude on your work.
Which to choose?
This should be decided when you plan your essay, and the easiest way is to pick one whilst you plan and try to wrap your plan around it. For example, you can pick the block method and see if your plan may be superimposed into it. If you find that you have to call back and forth between points too much then consider another structure/format.
You may decide that there are a lot of subjects to cover and so may decide to go for the subject-by-subject method. Or, you may be comparing one thing with several other things, in which case you may pick a point-by-point structure. Still, it is better to pick one during the planning phase so you can change your mind as you plan as oppose to changing your mind as you write your essay.