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How to Write a Comparative Analysis

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

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How to Write a Compare and Contrast Thesis: A Formula to Success

21 Jun 2021

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❓What is a Compare and Contrast Essay Thesis?

📖How Can a Compare and Contrast Thesis Statement be Written?

  • What is an Explanatory Thesis Statement?
  • What is an Evaluative Thesis Statement?

✅Tips for Writing a Good Compare and Contrast Thesis

☝Compare and Contrast Thesis Formula

The basis of a good compare and contrast paper is the thesis statement. For an essay to be effective, it should have a strong thesis that grabs the reader’s attention. If a paper doesn’t have one, or if it has one that’s no good, it probably won’t do well. To write an assignment of quality, understanding how to develop a compare and contrast thesis statement is key.

Before tackling the bulk of your work, you should focus on perfecting the thesis. This establishes the direction your work is going in. Approaching the thesis for compare and contrast essays from different angles helps writers produce one that’s worth reading.

If you’re wondering how to write a thesis for a compare and contrast essay, carry on reading this article. Learn more about this type of thesis for assignments and how you go about producing one. You’ll learn how to persuade the reader and tell them what your point of view is.

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What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay Thesis?

So what is a compare and contrast thesis statement and what’s the purpose of one? It’s a brief summary of what your argument will be about. It introduces the reader to your argument and gives them a clear idea of what’s to come. Crafting one helps you develop the  structure of a compare and contrast essay , as well as the outline. This is because it gets you thinking about your topics.

Condensing your whole work into a single summary can be challenging. However, doing so will help you expand your thoughts and come up with new ideas for the rest of your work.

Before coming up with the thesis statement for compare and contrast essay, ask yourself what your goal is. Simply put, it’s about finding and analysing the similarities and differences between two topics. Examples include:

  • The emotional responses of men vs. women
  • The MLA and APA citation styles

Writing about contrasting topics can be approached in two different ways. It’s important you understand each one before starting your work.

How Can a Compare and Contrast Essay Thesis Be Written?

In this section, we’ll look at writing good thesis statements for compare and contrast essays.

To produce one that's well-written, you should know where your work is heading. This means having a thorough understanding of the topics you’ll be contrasting.

You’ll probably have to do a lot of research to understand your topics well enough to write about them. Gather information and evidence that you can use in your work. Once you know enough about them, you should see how they differ and how they’re similar. This should reveal the relationship between the topics and what similarities and differences there are.

There are two main types of thesis statements: explanatory and evaluative. A persuasive thesis should clearly be of one type only.

What Is an Explanatory Thesis?

An explanatory thesis looks at two topics without bias. It’s quite common in university and college work since high-level academic work doesn’t accept personal writers’ opinions. Expository papers and research projects are examples of assignments that use this kind of statement. For pieces of work that include the writer’s opinion, a different type is preferable.

Here are some examples:

  • Apple is one of the world’s most financially successful companies. Its products have generated billions of dollars in sales.
  • Research suggests that to be healthy, you should have a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.

Some students who struggle with written assignments use our thesis writing service for help. We produce top-quality templates that students can use to improve their own work.

What Is an Evaluative Thesis?

On the other hand, an evaluative thesis is for assignments where the writer expresses opinions. These pieces of work usually have the writer favour a particular topic, idea, or argument over another. It presents multiple options and highlights one or more as the ideal one(s). At the same time, it invites whoever’s reading to come up with their own opinions.

If your assignment is evaluative, there’s no limit to what the focus of your assignment could be. The list of topics for comparative essays is endless. Whatever you focus on, ensure your knowledge of the topics is in-depth and that your evaluative reflects this.

Below are some examples:

  • There are many language-learning techniques that people use. Some are more useful than others.
  • Many critics praise Shakespeare’s work. However, there are some modern scholars who find fault with his plays.

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Tips for Writing a Good Compare and Contrast Thesis

Any type of college or university work should have a good-quality argument. If you’re wondering how to make a compare and contrast thesis statement good, there are several simple yet worthwhile things to do. Follow the tips below to ensure yours is of good quality.

  • Know what direction your piece of writing will head in. Understand your main argument and how you’ll conclude your work. If you’re struggling, create an outline and this should help you determine a route to go down.
  • Choose a topic that’s quite specific but still has enough content to meet the word count. If your topic is too broad, it’ll be harder to condense everything.
  • Include the most important comparisons and contrasts. Use an anchor chart to help determine what to include.
  • Use compare and contrast words to give your summary more flow and improve its readability.
  • Place the thesis statement of the compare and contrast essay at the end of the introduction. People reading your work should be able to easily identify it.
  • Choose your tone of voice carefully. Use language that’s to the point but also informative. Don’t put any words or phrases in that aren’t necessary and don't contribute anything.

Use these tips to improve your thesis statement for comparison and contrast essays. Don’t just write it in a hurry; spend time on it because it’s an important part of your work. Come up with several versions and determine which one is likely to be the best to use.

Again, it’s best that you produce the thesis before tackling the rest of your comparison assignment. This is because it should help you determine where the argument is heading. It should also remind you of the key points you’ll be making throughout the work.

A compare and contrast essay thesis statement should be as long as necessary but, at the same time, as short as possible. Make it a few sentences in length. You should write what you need but not overdo it.

Compare and Contrast Thesis Formula

When composing a compare and contrast essay thesis, there’s a general formula you should stick to. Below is the formula in a single sentence. Further down are some examples.

"Although topics X and Y are similar because of A and B , topic X is (your argument) because of C and D. "

How exactly does this formula work? First, you’ll identify the topics you’ll be discussing. These are X and Y. Then, you’ll focus on some facts that they have in common. These are A and B - you can have more, but two should be enough.

Then, you'll bring in your argument. You'll then say that topic X wins the argument because of reasons C and D. Again, there can be more reasons, but you should keep it brief and have just two or possibly one.

  • Although medicine and chemistry are great degrees because of their job prospects and reputation, medicine is better for those who want to help people. This is because it involves direct contact with patients.
  • While Spanish and French are easy to learn and widely spoken, Spanish is better for those living in the USA. The reason is that the USA has many more Spanish speakers.
  • Although smartphones and tablets are great for mobile gaming, those who prefer a quality gaming experience prefer tablets. They cite the larger screens as the key reason why.

In each of the examples above, the topics X and Y are introduced early on. Then there are one or two things they have in common. Topic X is mentioned as fitting the argument. Finally, there’s an explanation for this that highlights a point topic X has that topic Y doesn’t.

Use our compare and contrast thesis template and improve your work with statements of quality. Getting your thesis statement for a compare and contrast paper is crucial if your work’s going to read well. Don’t forget to use our custom writing service if you’re stuck on drafting a thesis for compare and contrast papers and still need help. We have experienced essay, dissertation and even PowerPoint presentation writers available to help bring to ideal your assignment.

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  • Comparing and contrasting in an essay | Tips & examples

Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay | Tips & Examples

Published on August 6, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

Comparing and contrasting is an important skill in academic writing . It involves taking two or more subjects and analyzing the differences and similarities between them.

Table of contents

When should i compare and contrast, making effective comparisons, comparing and contrasting as a brainstorming tool, structuring your comparisons, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about comparing and contrasting.

Many assignments will invite you to make comparisons quite explicitly, as in these prompts.

  • Compare the treatment of the theme of beauty in the poetry of William Wordsworth and John Keats.
  • Compare and contrast in-class and distance learning. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

Some other prompts may not directly ask you to compare and contrast, but present you with a topic where comparing and contrasting could be a good approach.

One way to approach this essay might be to contrast the situation before the Great Depression with the situation during it, to highlight how large a difference it made.

Comparing and contrasting is also used in all kinds of academic contexts where it’s not explicitly prompted. For example, a literature review involves comparing and contrasting different studies on your topic, and an argumentative essay may involve weighing up the pros and cons of different arguments.

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As the name suggests, comparing and contrasting is about identifying both similarities and differences. You might focus on contrasting quite different subjects or comparing subjects with a lot in common—but there must be some grounds for comparison in the first place.

For example, you might contrast French society before and after the French Revolution; you’d likely find many differences, but there would be a valid basis for comparison. However, if you contrasted pre-revolutionary France with Han-dynasty China, your reader might wonder why you chose to compare these two societies.

This is why it’s important to clarify the point of your comparisons by writing a focused thesis statement . Every element of an essay should serve your central argument in some way. Consider what you’re trying to accomplish with any comparisons you make, and be sure to make this clear to the reader.

Comparing and contrasting can be a useful tool to help organize your thoughts before you begin writing any type of academic text. You might use it to compare different theories and approaches you’ve encountered in your preliminary research, for example.

Let’s say your research involves the competing psychological approaches of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. You might make a table to summarize the key differences between them.

Or say you’re writing about the major global conflicts of the twentieth century. You might visualize the key similarities and differences in a Venn diagram.

A Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences between World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.

These visualizations wouldn’t make it into your actual writing, so they don’t have to be very formal in terms of phrasing or presentation. The point of comparing and contrasting at this stage is to help you organize and shape your ideas to aid you in structuring your arguments.

When comparing and contrasting in an essay, there are two main ways to structure your comparisons: the alternating method and the block method.

The alternating method

In the alternating method, you structure your text according to what aspect you’re comparing. You cover both your subjects side by side in terms of a specific point of comparison. Your text is structured like this:

Mouse over the example paragraph below to see how this approach works.

One challenge teachers face is identifying and assisting students who are struggling without disrupting the rest of the class. In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher can easily identify when a student is struggling based on their demeanor in class or simply by regularly checking on students during exercises. They can then offer assistance quietly during the exercise or discuss it further after class. Meanwhile, in a Zoom-based class, the lack of physical presence makes it more difficult to pay attention to individual students’ responses and notice frustrations, and there is less flexibility to speak with students privately to offer assistance. In this case, therefore, the traditional classroom environment holds the advantage, although it appears likely that aiding students in a virtual classroom environment will become easier as the technology, and teachers’ familiarity with it, improves.

The block method

In the block method, you cover each of the overall subjects you’re comparing in a block. You say everything you have to say about your first subject, then discuss your second subject, making comparisons and contrasts back to the things you’ve already said about the first. Your text is structured like this:

  • Point of comparison A
  • Point of comparison B

The most commonly cited advantage of distance learning is the flexibility and accessibility it offers. Rather than being required to travel to a specific location every week (and to live near enough to feasibly do so), students can participate from anywhere with an internet connection. This allows not only for a wider geographical spread of students but for the possibility of studying while travelling. However, distance learning presents its own accessibility challenges; not all students have a stable internet connection and a computer or other device with which to participate in online classes, and less technologically literate students and teachers may struggle with the technical aspects of class participation. Furthermore, discomfort and distractions can hinder an individual student’s ability to engage with the class from home, creating divergent learning experiences for different students. Distance learning, then, seems to improve accessibility in some ways while representing a step backwards in others.

Note that these two methods can be combined; these two example paragraphs could both be part of the same essay, but it’s wise to use an essay outline to plan out which approach you’re taking in each paragraph.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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Some essay prompts include the keywords “compare” and/or “contrast.” In these cases, an essay structured around comparing and contrasting is the appropriate response.

Comparing and contrasting is also a useful approach in all kinds of academic writing : You might compare different studies in a literature review , weigh up different arguments in an argumentative essay , or consider different theoretical approaches in a theoretical framework .

Your subjects might be very different or quite similar, but it’s important that there be meaningful grounds for comparison . You can probably describe many differences between a cat and a bicycle, but there isn’t really any connection between them to justify the comparison.

You’ll have to write a thesis statement explaining the central point you want to make in your essay , so be sure to know in advance what connects your subjects and makes them worth comparing.

Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:

  • The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
  • The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.

It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.

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