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Key Steps to Creating a Compare and Contrast Essay

Writing compare and contrast essays may seem like a daunting task, but when you begin with intent and know how you are going to attack each step, it becomes a process as opposed to a headache. Planning is essential when writing academic papers so that you can make sure your ideas are logical, well-thought out, and backed up by evidence. If you follow these steps, you will know exactly how to plan and write a compare and contrast essay you can be proud of.

List Similarities & Differences in Your Text

If your write-up is based off one or multiple texts, use your first reading to get an idea of the broad concepts and general points they are trying to make. If you make a note of this during your reading, it will flow nicely into your next step (and cut down on your work time!).

In order to analyze the similarities and differences between two texts, the next step is to use a Venn Diagram to record both. An optional step at this point is to make a short list of the criteria you are using to decide on what is the same and different. This can ease the process of referencing it in the future. At this stage, it is best to list anything you can think of; don't edit yourself yet!

Create the Thesis

Your thesis is the sentence that refers to the central argument you want to make, and it should guide your paper from start to end. This is one of the most crucial sentences in a composition, as every other sentence you write should directly apply back to your thesis. To make an excellent essay, go beyond a thesis that says it is “similar in some ways but different in other ways”. Instead, step back and analyze. Ask yourself why anybody should care about these differences. Keep in mind your class's subject matter, and for bonus points also consider what your teacher is hoping you will get out of this assignment.

Outline the Essay

Now it’s time to build your paper's skeleton. In whatever form of outline you prefer, you can break down the main points that are required to support your thesis. Most compare/contrast essays follow a six-paragraph formula:

  1. Introduction: This paragraph usually begins with explaining why this paper is important, and ends with the thesis sentence.
  2. Second & Third Paragraph: You can choose between two paragraphs that show both the compare and contrast for only one side, or two paragraphs that only compare for both sides.
  3. Fourth & Fifth Paragraph: These paragraphs should complement your choice for the second and third paragraphs.
  4. Conclusion: Restate your thesis, and possibly suggest the next step to developing this argument.

Support Your Argument and Write the Essay

Now that you have your essay's bones in place, use the texts to find specific evidence that will support each key point in your body paragraphs. Use this evidence to write your piece and flesh out your argument. Due to the large amount of information that fills this style of essay, it is usually acceptable to make one to two examples per key point. Finally, add outside criticism or references to validate the points you want to make, but don't forget to cite your sources.

Edit and Review

We are on the final stretch. Read back over your piece checking for both errors in content as well as grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. Feel free to ask a friend to read over the essay for you. Finally, you are finished and ready to turn it in.