What is a comparative essay?
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare
- positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
- theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
- figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
- texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamletand Macbeth)
- events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
Make sure you know the basis for comparison
The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.
- Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
- Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.
Develop a list of similarities and differences
Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.
For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.
The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.
Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences
Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:
- Differences outweigh similarities:
While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
- Similarities outweigh differences:
Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.
Come up with a structure for your essay
- Alternating method: Point-by-point patternIn the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For instance, a comparative essay on the French and Russian revolutions might examine how both revolutions either encouraged or thwarted innovation in terms of new technology, military strategy, and the administrative system.
A Paragraph 1 in body new technology and the French Revolution B Paragraph 2 in body new technology and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 3 in body military strategy and the French Revolution B Paragraph 4 in body military strategy and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 5 in body administrative system and the French Revolution B Paragraph 6 in body administrative system and the Russian Revolution
Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.
When do I use the alternating method? Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.
- Block method: Subject-by-subject patternIn the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block method on the French and Russian revolutions would address the French Revolution in the first half of the essay and the Russian Revolution in the second half. If you choose the block method, however, do not simply append two disconnected essays to an introductory thesis. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
A Paragraphs 1–3 in body How the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation B Paragraphs 4–6 in body How the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation
When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:
- You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
- Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
- You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.
10 Good Examples Of Thesis Statements For A Compare And Contrast Essay
If you’ve been set this type of paper, you’ll need to know how to handle each part of its construction; and one of those parts is getting your thesis statement right!
It should come after the introduction and is usually just one sentence in the first paragraph of your first chapter. So, for something so short, it could be overlooked as not being as important as other parts of the paper. Well, don’t overlook it! In that short thesis statement should be contained your intention for the whole paper- so make sure you get it right!
A thesis statement should interpret the significance of the subject to be discussed. Simply, it informs the reader of the expectations they can have for the rest of the essay; it is the argument for the forthcoming thesis.
Here are 10 good examples:
- Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream contrasts the fairies and the mortals’ perception of, and boundaries of, reality, which is furthered by the play within a play.
- Although Egyptian and South American pyramids differed greatly in many respects, as with their exterior and interior construction techniques, they also had many striking similarities; most obviously, they were made by two geographically different peoples who had no contact with one another according to official history.
- There are an incredible amount of similarities between the stories of the movies Dances With Wolves and Avatar, with plenty of reason to think this is not accidental.
- When comparing and contrasting the Republicans and Democrats, it seems as though they have so much more in common than not.
- With Richard Dawkins and others promoting atheism these days, there are many atheists who have uncanny similarities with Christian preachers.
- Seeing as Judaism, Christianity and Islam all stem from the same Abrahamic religion, and therefore they all technically worship the same god, are there enough differences between them to keep them opposed?
- How exactly does Milton’s Paradise Lost differ to Genesis of the Bible, and due to many factors (such as having a single author) does Milton’s work actually contain more wisdom than the other?
- With quantum physics discovering what many would claim as old mystical truths, let’s examine just how many similarities can be seen in the spiritual and scientific worlds.
- Manet’s Olympia painting obviously has many similarities to the Titian’s original (the Venus of Urbino) and there are plenty of apparent contrasts in its artistic perception, but what of the public’s perception to such paintings at different points in time?
- With so many obelisks placed in major cities around the world, are there enough similarities in their placement to give weight to ancient ley line theories?