Writing the Comparison/Contrast Paper

I. A comparison/contrast paper explains the similarities and differences between subjects to make a point about how the two compare or contrast in some significant way.

A. To compare subjects is to look for similarities; to contrast subjects is to look for differences.

1. You will often find that you can't do one without the other.

2. To find differences often requires similarities in the first place.

a. For example, to contrast two novels is to recognize already that they have the common characteristic of being novels.

b. Don't hesitate to point out similarities or differences even if you are seemingly only comparing or contrasting.

A. The point of the paper is not simply to illustrate that two subjects are the same or different; the point is to analyze how they compare or contrast and why their similarities or differences are important.

B. To simply say, "A Dell computer is different from a Gateway computer" doesn't explain how or why the difference is important.

C. The comparison/contrast paper needs to focus on the need for the comparison or contrast rather than the fact of the comparison or contrast.

D. Because the how and why are more important than the fact, a comparison/contrast paper is a good method for analyzing subjects, be they cars, medicines, or poems.

II. If you are assigned to write a comparison/contrast paper, select your subjects carefully.

A. Literally anything can be compared or contrasted to something else, but you want subjects that provide you some basis for analysis.

1. Select subjects that have enough in common that you have something to write about.

2. For example, if you are looking at the use of cousins in literature, don't compare a short story to a novel; instead, compare one short story to another.

3. If you are looking at treatments for Parkinson's disease, you could compare the efficacy of chemical treatments over physical therapy.

4. If you are buying appliances for a home, don't compare the features of a refrigerator to a range, unless you want to decide which is more important to your home.

B. Always keep in mind that the purpose of the comparison/contrast is more important than the two subjects.

III. Your organization will be based on how you think the subjects can best be compared or contrasted.

A. Before you organize, you need a reason for the comparison or contrast.

1. This reason will help determine what points on which you want to compare or contrast.

2. For example, if you are looking at cousins in William Faulkner's novels and in Eudora Welty's novels, your purpose may be to illustrate how Southern authors use extended families in their writing.

3. If you are writing about treatments for Parkinson's disease, your purpose may be to determine the most economic treatment.

4. If you are buying appliances, you may need to choose which you need to buy first.

B. If you are given subjects on which to compare, you may need to look at similarities and differences before determining a reason.

1. Charting the subjects may help you set up their similarities and differences.

2. Here are two possible charts:

a. Use a Venn diagram (two overlapping circles)

Red circle: refrigerator; blue circle: range; interlocking circle: similarities






     Refrigerator                 basic appliances;                      Range

    Cold storage                  food preparation              cook food

     Preserve food                                                       heat room




i. The diagram illustrates needs for a refrigerator and needs for a range and what they have in common.

ii. You might conclude that a refrigerator is more important than a range.

b. Use a table



Sharpness of picture

Dependent on pixels

Different lens possibilities

Limited lenses

Longer battery life

Short battery life

Better control of camera

Harder to hold

Less flexibility

Can shoot quickly

Have pictures developed

Instant development

Scan pictures for computer

Download instantly


Easy to carry

No motion picture

Video possibility

i. The above table was used for the sample paper.

ii. It lists features for cameras by pointing out how each model represents that feature.

iii. You could conclude that the SLR is better for picture quality.

C. Once you have a purpose for the comparison or contrast, then select what points you will use for the comparison or contrast to lead to that purpose.

1. For example, from the Venn diagram, you can see that food preparation, food storage, and auxiliary uses are referred to in the points for each appliance.

2. From the table diagram, you can see that picture quality, ease of use, size, and flexibility are points on which the two can be compared.

D. Finally decide on how best to organize the points.

1. You can organize the paper by subjects or by points.

a. In doing so, you explain the first subject entirely and then the second.

b. You develop the explanation of each subject point-by-point.

c. Make sure that when you develop the second subject, you organize the points in the same order as you did for the first subject.

d. As you discuss the second subject, you explain how it compares with the first.

e. Here is a sample subject-by-subject outline for the paper on cameras:

I. Introduction

A. Attention getter: Situation for camera use.

B. Thesis: Digital cameras are better than still cameras for family events when the non-professional photographers want their cameras.

II. Body

A. Background

1. Define SLR camera.

2. Define digital camera.

B. SLR camera

1. Good pictures

2. Heavy and bulky

3. Requires adjustments

4. Only still pictures

5. Need time to develop pictures

C. Digital camera

1. Satisfactory pictures

2. Light and small

3. Relatively point and shooot

4. Video capabilities

5. Instant pictures with email

III. Conclusion

A. Review of main points: Digital camera has the size and flexibility to make it better for family gatherings than the SLR camera would be.

B. Closing attention getter: Sharing pictures of weird relatives.


2. The second method of organization is to develop the comparison or contrast point by point.

a. You discussion the point in terms of how each subject fits it.

b. In each point, end with the subject that you are stressing.

c. This organization works well when you are discussing how specific objects compare to a final end.

d. See Sample Comparison Outline.

IV. Writing the paper means following the thesis and your outline.

A. Your thesis should state what subjects you are comparing and for what purpose.

1. You may also include the points of comparison, as is done in the sample paper.

2. If you are using a point-by-point organization, organize the thesis so that it follows the order used in the outline.

B. Provide good details to illustrate each point so that readers can see how the subjects compare or contrast.

1. You need to let readers "see" the subjects as you do, so provide plenty of specific examples or details.

2. When you present the details, analyze them to explain how the details illustrate the point made in the thesis.

3. Tell readers what they are to conclude about the comparison or contrast.

C. See sample paper.


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