How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

The following comes from our revised Essay Architect Writing System, which is due out Fall 2012!  Be sure to like us on Facebook to be notified when the book is released.

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

Compare and Contrast essays are used to examine two or more subjects and the similarities and/or differences between them.  The task of this type of essay is to clarify something unknown by analyzing it next to something with which the reader is familiar.  Like the cause and effect essay, it is important that your thesis statement clearly states whether you will be comparing (giving similarities), contrasting (showing differences), or sometimes, both.

Key Prompt Words: compare, contrast, show differences, show similarities, differentiate, show a connection between


  • To reveal similarities and/or differences between two things

Important Aspects

  • Know Your Purpose
    • Are you comparing (finding similarities)?
    • Are you contrasting (finding differences)?
    • Are you doing both?
  • Be sure your thesis clearly states whether you are comparing, contrasting, or both, and gives a sneak “peek” into the points you make in your paper.
    • The thesis is your opinion and can be argued because you chose those 2-3 points of comparison or contrast to explore in your essay.  In other words, someone else could disagree with your claim that those are the main or most important points to mention in your essay.

There are many ways to set up a five-paragraph Compare and Contrast Essay; here are four models:

NOTE: Make new paragraphs to avoid very long paragraphs if necessary.  No one should fault you for having more than five paragraphs, but you will be counted down for having fewer than five.

  1. Introduction
  2. Minor Similarities
  3. Minor Differences
  4. Focus on One Major Similarity OR One Major Difference
  5. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Major Similarity
  3. Major Difference
  4. 3-4 Minor Similarities/ Differences
  5. Conclusion

Contrast Only:

  1. Introduction
  2. Difference #1
  3. Difference #2
  4. Difference #3
  5. Conclusion

Compare Only:

  1. Introduction
  2. Similarity #1
  3. Similarity #2
  4. Similarity #3
  5. Conclusion


Organizing Compare/Contrast Essays

Compare/Contrast Writing:

  1. Explores the similarities, differences, or both, of a subject
  2. Gives examples, quotes, or arguments to support the major similarities/differences
  3. Sticks with either similarities/differences (sometimes, both) throughout

Goal of Compare/Contrast Writing:

To examine two or more subjects and the similarities and/or differences between them.  The task of this type of essay is to clarify something unknown by analyzing it next to something with which the reader is familiar.

Most Important Aspects of Compare/Contrast Writing:

Knowing Whether to Compare or Contrast

  • Must be able to interpret the essay prompt to know what it’s asking of you
  • Must show a clear line of differences or similarities
  • Must provide specific logical evidence to prove the similarities or differences

Beyond the Obvious

  • It is important that you go beyond the obvious to compare and contrast; your essay should be enlightening and effective, not merely a summary or description of items

Example of Compare/Contrast Prompt:

Prompt for both compare AND contrast: The theme of revenge is common in many of Shakespeare’s plays. Explore the theme of revenge, and consider how it is treated in two of Shakespeare’s plays.

Prompt to compare: There is saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Find the similarities between life when you were in kindergarten and your life today.

Prompt to contrast: Using the two texts we’ve studied, contrast how differently each of the protagonist women are treated by their families and society in general.

Compare/Contrast Thesis

Remember that in a Compare/Contrast paper, you showing the MAJOR similarities and/or differences between a subject.  Your thesis statement must clearly state whether you will be comparing, contrasting, or both.

For Example:

Topic: Compare and contrast entering junior high and high school.

Simple Compare/Contrast Thesis:  While there are several similarities between entering junior high and high school, the differences are stark—and even shocking—to students.

To test whether this thesis actually qualifies as a Compare/Contrast thesis, we need to check two things:

  1. Does the thesis address whether the essay will cover similarities, differences, or both? 

Both similarities and differences are mentioned, but it looks as if the emphasis will be placed on differences.  That is okay, as long as both are addressed according to the prompt.

  1. Does the thesis mention the topic of the essay?

YES, the topic – similarities and differences of entering junior high versus high school is mentioned.

Of course, you know that this thesis is just a simple thesis.  If we want to write a “better” thesis statement, our thesis statement might look something like this:

While both junior high and high school begin with new faces and lost students looking for their classrooms, the shock of being a small fish in a big pond and the overwhelming feeling of drowning in homework is common as one enters the intimidating world of high school.

See also Argumentative Essays and Cause and Effect Essays

4 thoughts on “How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

  1. Hi, if I were to only focus on the similarities for the compare and contrast entering junior high and high school, how can I write a strong thesis statement?


    1. Great question! You would do the same thing as for writing a compare and contrast, using the similarities in your thesis statement. For example, While both similarities and differences exist between soccer and football, the need to defend a ball from opponents, the physical conditioning required, and the scoring process, are quite similar. Basically, you are focusing on the similarities in the thesis statement, which you will be exploring in the body paragraphs. Good luck!


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