You’re looking for a great compare and contrast essay topic to kick start your assignment. How can you choose an interesting topic that’s simultaneously narrow yet broad enough to provide you with plenty of great material?
In this blog post, I’ll give you 70 compare and contrast essay topics. I’ve also included links to sample essays for even more inspiration.
With many of these topics, I’ll also give you some basic compare and contrast points to get your ideas going. Note that my points are pretty general.
When you write your compare and contrast essay, you’ll want to dig deep, do your research, and find the most interesting facts.
Let’s get started!
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Influential PeopleIt’s time to dust off your powers of creativity and have some fun comparing and contrasting influential people.
People are the definition of unique—no two are exactly alike. The challenge is to find the similarities between two individuals, even when they seem to have nothing in common.
Comparing two people from a similar background is pretty easy. But surprising comparisons—such as those between fictional characters and real-life people or between people from different epochs—can lead to the most interesting essays.
When you successfully make those unlikely connections, readers will be awestruck by your sheer brilliance.
1. Mahatma Gandhi vs. Osama Bin Laden
Mahatma Gandhi and Osama Bin Laden were both extremely influential figures who successfully motivated thousands of people to act on behalf of their visions. Both leaders were killed by their opposition.
Gandhi was a pacifist and a bastion of peace and compassion. He fought for freedom and civil rights. Bin Laden was an extreme militant and a bastion of war and intolerance. He fought for the implementation of extreme religious propaganda.
2. Edward Snowden vs. Julius Caesar
Both Edward Snowden and Julius Caesar played an instrumental role in the inevitable demise of the powerful institutions in which they functioned—Snowden the 21st century United States of America and Caesar the Roman Republic.
Snowden fights for the rights of the people, while Caesar fought against the people in his quest for ultimate power.
Speaking of Romans:The Roman and Han empires make for an interesting comparison. Even though the two nations were separated by time and geography, they experienced striking similarities in technological, political, and economic advances.
3. OJ Simpson vs. Tom Robinson
OJ Simpson and Tom Robinson were both black men who stood accused of violence against white women. Both men were convicted for these crimes. Their convictions left behind a debate as to whether the men were actually brought to justice or rather were victims of racial injustice.
Tom Robinson is a fictional character from the book To Kill a Mockingbird. OJ Simpson is a real-life former NFL player. Tom Robinson was sentenced to death, while OJ Simpson received a prison sentence.
4. Harriet Jacobs vs. Frederick Douglass
Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass were former slaves who became abolitionists. Both Jacobs and Douglass wrote profound autobiographical accounts of their lives as slaves that helped form the argument against slavery.
Harriet Jacobs wrote about the struggles and hardships unique to women in slavery, such as sexual abuse. Frederick Douglass wrote about the struggles and hardships specific to men in slavery, such as emasculation. Douglass went on to become a well-known orator and ran for vice president on the Equal Party Ticket. Jacobs remained an important but relatively unrecognized figure in the abolitionist movement.
5. Adolf Hitler vs. Joseph Stalin
Both Hitler and Stalin were dictators who achieved a high level of power during WWI and WWII. Both men were behind innumerable human atrocities that killed millions of innocent people.
Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany. Stalin was the leader of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Nazism, by definition, is opposed to communism.
6. Maya Angelou vs. Alice Walker
Maya Angelou and Alice Walker are both well-known African American authors. They are credited with contributing important fictional and non-fictional texts on the issues surrounding what it means to be black in the United States. They are both inspirational political and civil rights activists. They are both recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.
In addition to writing, Angelou is also known for her work as an actress and film and television producer. Even though they addressed similar topics in their writings, the two authors wrote in very different styles—each with her own unique voice.
7. Hobbes vs. Locke
Hobbes and Locke were both 17th century English philosophers. They were both interested in exploring political philosophy. Both men, for instance, talked about a state of nature—the idea of man existing without government—and the dangers of such a state (though that’s where their similarities largely ended on the topic).
Hobbes and Locke disagreed on a number of issues. For example, Hobbes believed that man is by nature a social animal, while Locke believed the opposite. Hobbes believed that man has an intrinsic understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Locke believed that man only understands the difference between right and wrong when an authority, such as the law or God, enforces it.
8. Ellen DeGeneres vs. Oprah Winfrey
Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey are both American television personalities who have hosted their own daytime talk shows. Both women have been extremely successful in their careers.
As a comedienne, DeGeneres relies on witty humor and sarcastic criticism to convey her messaging, while the more serious Winfrey relies on inspiration, insights, and aha moments.
“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.” – Ellen DeGeneres
9. Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. DuBois
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were both early 20th century civil rights activists. They were both great leaders of the black community. Both men were also accomplished scholars.
Washington and DuBois disagreed on how to go about achieving racial equality. Washington believed that African Americans should earn equality through self-help and hard work. DuBois, conversely, believed that African Americans needed to become better educated and more politically active.
10. Plato vs. Socrates
Plato and Socrates were both ancient Greek philosophers. They are considered to be the founders of Western philosophy. Both men also founded a school.
Socrates was Plato’s teacher and mentor. Socrates expounded on the wisdom of “I know that I know nothing.” Plato philosophized that the world of ideas was the only constant and that the world of senses is changeable.
11. Adolf Hitler vs. Regina George
Adolf Hitler and Regina George both can be considered dictators in their own right. Both Hitler and George believed that people with blonde hair, blue eyes, and other Aryan features were somehow better than other people.
Adolf Hitler was a real person, dictator, and founder of Nazism in Germany. He was responsible for countless human atrocities, including the murder of over 6 million Jews. Regina George is a fictional character from the 2004 movie Mean Girls. George’s biggest human atrocity is the creation of the Burn Book, a book that libels the other students in school.
12. Pope Francis vs. Macklemore
Both Pope Francis and Macklemore believe in love, equality, and showing compassion to others. Both are cultural icons. Both men have the ability to reach out to and speak to the masses.
Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church. Macklemore is an American entertainer and hip-hop rapper. Macklemore “wears your grandad’s clothes,” while Pope Francis is old enough to be your grandad.
13. Lin-Manual Miranda vs. William Shakespeare
Both playwrights have changed the face of theater forever. Both playwrights have been criticized for creating historically inaccurate works. Both writers make political and social commentary in their plays.
Shakespeare’s plays were not musicals (though they often contained musical components). Miranda’s most famous play, Hamilton, is a wildly successful musical. Shakespeare lived and wrote in the 16th century, while Miranda is a contemporary playwright.
14. Ronald Reagan vs. Donald Trump
Reagan and Trump were both television and media stars before becoming president. When they were first elected, many people feared that neither one of these men would be strong or effective leaders.
When Reagan took office, interest rates and inflation were high. Trump, on the other hand, entered office with historically low inflation and interest rates. Many people believed Reagan understood the problems with government and believed he was willing to work with citizens to help solve problems. Trump has claimed that he alone will be able to solve problems.
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: History
15. 19th century living vs. modern living
16. The Roman vs. Han empires
17. Medicine in Ancient Greece vs. medicine in Ancient China
18. Media coverage of past wars vs. media coverage of current wars
19. Russian propaganda during the Cold War vs. Russian propaganda today
20. The Great Depression vs. the Great Recession
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Religion
When you set out to compare and contrast world religions, you may feel like you have fallen down a rabbit hole. A student I know once wrote an essay comparing Jesus Christ and Snow White—talk about falling down a rabbit hole!
What’s more, the crossovers between two opposing religions can be surprising.
21. Protestantism vs. Catholicism
Protestants were originally a part of the Catholic Church. So they still believe that Jesus is the savior and that he was crucified and rose from the dead to save humanity.
Among their many differences, Catholics believe in Holy Water, purgatory, and that those wafers you eat at mass are actually, literally the body of Christ. Protestants don’t believe in any of that. (While protestants do take communion, they don’t think the wafers are really a piece of flesh.) Catholics have nuns, priests, and a pope. Protestants don’t.
22. Theravada vs. Mahayana Buddhism
Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism follow Dharma, the teachings of Buddha. Both reject the notion of a god or gods (they are nontheistic). Both believe theistic religions are misguided.
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism have some basic philosophical differences. For example, Theravada Buddhists believe that Buddha died, leaving his teachings behind. Mahayana Buddhists believe that Buddha lives on in various incarnations.
23. Judaism vs. Christianity
Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic religions that teach about one almighty God. Both are Abrahamic religions. Both religions teach the Old Testament. Both believe in angels, demons, and spirits as spiritual beings.
Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ was the messiah and that he will return to Earth one day. Christians believe that Jesus died for the sins of humankind. Judaism teaches that Jesus was a teacher and a prophet of God, but not God himself. Judaism also rejects the notion of Jesus’s sacrifice.
24. Religious mindset vs. cult following
Both organized religions and cults seek spiritual enlightenment and follow the teachings of a leader. Both have members with varying levels of practice and extremism.
Cults are more likely to attempt to extort money from their followers. Cults are also more likely than religions to use mind-control to force members into following the teachings of the cult.
25. Jesus Christ vs. Buddha
Jesus Christ and Buddha were both spiritual leaders. Both were teachers and tutors during their time on Earth. Both were miraculously conceived, performed miracles, and were tempted but overcame the devil.
Though Jesus performed several notable miracles, Buddha did not. Buddha believed that he lived his life in search of the truth, while Jesus believed he was the truth.
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Countries and Politics
26. Salem Witch Trials vs. McCarthyism
27. Welfare programs in the US vs. welfare programs in Canada
28. Malaysian government vs. Singapore government
29. The Democratic vs. Republican parties in the US
30. Classical liberalism vs. modern liberalism
31. Today’s Democratic liberals vs. today’s Republican conservatives
32. Past presidential elections vs. the most recent presidential election
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Education
You can compare and contrast different facets of education until you are as blue as a Smurf. To succeed, you’re better served by pitting two veryspecific elements of education against each other.
The trick is to narrow your angle down to a tight focus while leaving room to write enough compelling points to describe the differences and similarities.
33. Private vs. public universities
Both private and public universities offer a range of academic courses and opportunities. Both allow students to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree.
Private universities are typically more expensive. The College Board reports that for the 2013-2014 school year, private universities cost over $30,000 for one year of tuition, while public universities cost just over $8,000 for in-state and $22,000 for out-of-state tuition. However, private institutions are known to offer better financial aid options.
34. Small vs. large universities
Both small and large universities can provide students with the opportunities to achieve educational goals. Both offer bachelor’s degrees. (We’re not comparing the size of their parties here…but you could!)
Small universities offer individualized majors, smaller class sizes, and hands-on learning opportunities. Large universities offer state-of-the art research facilities, a wider range of academic programs, and more student clubs and events.
35. High school vs. college
High school is a stepping stone to attending college. Students need to successfully complete the curriculum of both educational institutions in order to advance in many careers. Both institutions employ instructors to teach coursework. Both require students to refer to textbooks. Both require substantial homework.
High school allows for fewer academic choices. Students are typically limited to a state-designed curriculum that does not take into account a student’s particular strengths and interests. College is a time for students to focus on courses that are specific to their career goals.
36. Online vs. traditional classes
Both online and traditional classes offer education toward a degree program. Students have access to instructors in both class formats. Both involve some form of discussion among classmates. Both often have group projects.
Online classes allow for more flexibility than traditional classes. Students can take an online course at any time from the comfort of their homes. Traditional classes require students to attend class at a specific time and location. The access to instructors is virtual in online classes and in-person in traditional classes. Online classes often have discussion board posts that replace live classroom discussions.
37. Homeschooling vs. public education
Homeschooling and public education provide specific guidelines and learning outcomes for students. Both provide a way for children to experience and learn about the world around them.
Public education provides more opportunities for socialization than homeschooling. Homeschooling can be more demanding on parents as they must be both full-time parent and full-time teacher.
38. Advanced placement (AP) classes vs. honors classes
Both types of classes provide more rigor than traditional high school classes and are geared toward higher achieving students. Both types of classes can strengthen students’ college applications.
Honors courses are essentially high school courses that cover subject matter in greater depth. AP courses are designed to mirror college-level courses. High school honors courses do not allow students to earn college credit. Some high school AP courses allow students to earn college credit.
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Film and Literature
Chances are, if you’ve been in English class for any length of time, you’ve been asked to compare and contrast two bodies of literature or other fictional work.
This is your chance to surprise the heck out of your professor (and get a good grade) by making unexpected comparisons.
Following are some topic examples.
39. Twilight vs. Dracula
Both pieces of literature investigate vampire lore. Both use foreshadowing as a literary device to move the story forward. Both also share three themes: attraction, addiction, and repulsion.
Twilight’s 21st century vampires are sexy and sparkly. Edward Cullen of Twilight is charming and irresistibly dangerous. On the other hand, Dracula is a 19th century blood-thirsty beast that anyone would resist. Bram Stoker’s Dracula had a thick mustache, a large nose, and white hair that “grew scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere.” (Bella, eat your heart out.) Also, there are no werewolves in Dracula.
40. Breaking Bad vs. Lost
Both Breaking Bad and Lost were hit TV series of the early 21st century. Both shows have won a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy. Both have a character named Walt. Both use flashforward scenes to move the narrative forward.
Breaking Bad investigates the concept of the anti-hero in the character Walter White, who is easy to hate but hard not to cheer on as he descends into a life of crime. Lost investigates the virtues of a classic hero in the likeable character of Jack Shephard.
41. A Rose for Emily vs. The Yellow Wallpaper
Both stories depict women being forced into isolation as a result of “lunacy.” Both stories explore the definition of femininity and the repression of women. Both stories explore dysfunctional relationships between women and men.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” tells the story of a woman’s experience of being shut into a bedroom for a summer. “A Rose for Emily” explores a woman’s experience of shutting herself into a house for 40 years. Both stories investigate these themes in very different ways.
42.Fahrenheit 451 vs. Red Scarf Girl
Both stories uncover themes of cultural repression. Both stories revolve around the human experience of defying unjust government regulations. Censorship and loss of individual rights are themes in both books.
Fahrenheit 451 is a science fiction novel about how the character Montag defies authority and begins to read the books that he had been ordered to burn. Red Scarf Girl is a true story about a young girl, Ji-li, and her experience of defiance and resistance during China’s cultural revolution.
43. The Day After Tomorrow vs. I am Legend
Both movies address the theme of the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic struggles for survival. Both movies touch on deeply rooted fears of humanity and our intrinsic understanding that the human race must eventually meet its end. Both showcase a lone scientific hero who tries to save humanity.
In I Am Legend, the harbinger of the apocalypse is a plague that turns people into killer monsters. In the Day After Tomorrow, an out-of-control storm ushers in an apocalyptic ice age.
44.The Hunger Games vs. Divergent
Both novels create a dystopian vision of life in the future where society has been divided into factions. Both novels are coming-of-age love stories. Both stories require the female protagonists to partake in violent rituals.
The Hunger Games explores themes of violence and corruption, and the defiance of unjust authority. Divergent explores themes of following your heart despite the odds.
45. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde vs. The Picture of Dorian Gray
Both of these stories feature a protagonist with a dark side that they try to hide from the world. Through such a lens, both stories share the theme of duality.
While Dr. Jekyll swings from being good and bad, Dorian Gray slowly transforms from good to bad as the story progresses. Dr. Jekyll outwardly manifests his dark side as Mr. Hyde, but Dorian keeps his darkness hidden, only acting on his impulses in secret. Dorian’s portrait is the only outward clue of his wrongdoing—the picture reveals his true nature with every wicked act.
46. 1984 vs. The Hunger Games
Both novels tell the story of a dystopian future where society is oppressed by an all-knowing and watchful authority. Both novels also have segments of the population in extreme poverty.
1984 is commentary on the dangers of a totalitarian state, and it’s set in Europe. The protagonist is an adult man. The Hunger Games is a coming-of-age story with a US-inspired setting. The protagonist is a young woman.
47. Julius Caesar vs. Macbeth
These two Shakespearean plays have a lot of common. They both revolve around regicide (the murder of a king). Both involve power plays, scandals, and manipulation (but don’t all Shakespeare tragedies?).
Macbeth relies on prophecies and the fulfillment of prophecies as one of its main literary hooks—it’s a story filled with magic and witches. JuliusCaesar is realism-based, focusing on the plausible dramas and tragedies of the Roman Empire.
Bonus read:Don’t Make These 6 Tragic Mistakes in Your Macbeth Essay
48. Beowulf vs. Wolverine
Both have cool, wolfish names. Both are heroes who undertake epic adventures to fight evil. Both experience serious transitions during their journeys.
Beowulf was created in the ancient stew of medieval literature. Wolverine was created in 1974. Beowulf revels in glories, while Wolverine’s good deeds go without reward.
49. Beowulf vs. Odysseus
Beowulf and Odysseus both must battle monsters on their epic journeys. Both heroes share many of the same traits: courage, intelligence, and strength. Both men use all three traits to win their respective battles.
Odysseus makes it safely home and dies in his old age. Beowulf dies after slaying a dragon. Odysseus uses deception while battling enemies, while Beowulf doesn’t play games to gain an advantage against his enemies.
50. 12 Angry Men stage play vs. a film adaptation of 12 Angry Men
Both the play and the movie follow the same basic plot, with jurors attempting to determine the guilt of the accused. In both, the jurors are nameless, known only by their juror numbers.
The scenes are more detailed in the movie compared to the descriptions in the play. The producers took some liberties with adding and/or altering dialogue from the original screenplay.
Bonus info:12 Angry Men was made into a movie in 1957 and in 1997. You might also write a compare and contrast essay about the two film adaptations.
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Art
51.Olympia vs. Grande Odalisque
52. Pablo Picasso vs. Salvador Dali
53. King Arthur vs. Zeus
54. Realism vs. Modernism
55. Michelangelo’s Davis vs. Bernini’s David
56. Impressionism vs. Post-Impressionism
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Culture and SocietyThere are infinite possibilities when it comes to choosing from compare and contrast essay topics about culture and society. The trick here is to pick a topic that is very specific and interesting.
Here are some ideas.
57. Korean concept of beauty vs. American concept of beauty
Both Americans and Koreans value thinness as an ideal beauty standard. Both cultures hold ideals of beauty that are impossible for most people to achieve.
Americans focus on beauty standards, such as blonde hair, blue eyes, big breasts (on women), round butts, and tans. Korean beauty focuses on ideal face and eye shapes and pale skin.
58. Cohabitation vs. marriage
Cohabitation and marriage both involve two people living together and sharing resources. Both also usually mean two people are in a serious relationship.
Marriage involves a legal and binding contract between two people that includes healthcare benefits and tax benefits. Cohabitation does not require a legal contract and does not include such benefits.
59. Teenagers vs. toddlers
Both teenagers and toddlers are moody, willful, and needy. Both teens and toddlers are usually exploring newly found independence. Both often require supervision in many areas.
Teenagers are more mobile than toddlers and can be far more destructive in their actions. Toddlers are a thousand times more adorable than teenagers. Teenagers have the ability to reason, unlike toddlers, but rarely take advantage of this ability.
60. Traditional Chinese parenting vs. Western parenting
Both Chinese and Western parents want the best for their children. Both educate and discipline their children in ways they feel will best prepare their children for the future.
Compared to Western parents, Chinese parents (particularly “Tiger Moms”) are very strict. They do not allow their children much free time and stress discipline and rigid schedules.
61. Authoritative parenting vs. permissive parenting
In both parenting styles, parents attempt to communicate with their children. In both styles, parents are also likely to encourage creativity and expression in their children.
Authoritative parents are assertive and in control while not being extremely demanding. Permissive parents are more lenient and likely to avoid conflict with their children.
Compare and Contrast Essay Topics: Technology
62. Apple vs. Google smartphones
63. Apple vs. Microsoft
64. Honda vs. Ford
65. Gasoline vs. ethanol vs. biodiesel
66. Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4
67. Tablets vs. textbooks
68. Solar energy vs. wind energy
69. Face-to-face relationships vs. online relationships
70. Safety of cars with seat belts only vs. safety of cars with seat belts and airbags
Hopefully, you’ve found a topic that will make writing your essay fun and easy. If you need even more ideas, here is a web app that helps you compare just about anything. And here’s a cool website with compare and contrast topics galore.
Once you’ve settled on a topic, I recommend reading these posts to get started with your essay:
Once your own compare and contrast essay is drafted, send it to one of our awesome essay editors for review.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference. This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.
Grounds for Comparison. Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison, lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.
Thesis. The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:
Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.
Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.
Organizational Scheme. Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.
- In text-by-text, you discuss all of A, then all of B.
- In point-by-point, you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.
If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.
You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.
Linking of A and B. All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast (similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner).
As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand, feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.
Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University