Comparison Essay

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Comparison Essay
Task: Compare two or more subjects or items.

Unless otherwise stated, you should also contrast subjects to consider similarities and differences.

Your comparison may be provided in the essay question or developed by yourself. If developing by yourself you must establish the device, concern, or theme to be examined.
Examples include:

  • positions on an issue (marijuana laws in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico)

  • theories (communism and capitalism)

  • events (U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq)

  • texts (families in Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet)

Next, create a list of similarities and differences.

Develop a thesis according to the relative weight of those similarities and differences.


1. 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 those conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.

2. 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.

Finally, chose the structure for your essay.

  1. Alternating method: Point-by-point pattern. In 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.


    Paragraph 1 in body

    new technology and the French Revolution


    Paragraph 2 in body

    new technology and the Russian Revolution


    Paragraph 3 in body

    military strategy and the French Revolution


    Paragraph 4 in body

    military strategy and the Russian Revolution


    Paragraph 5 in body

    administrative system and the French Revolution


    Paragraph 6 in body

    administrative system and the Russian Revolution

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Block method: Subject-by-subject pattern. In 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.


    Paragraphs 1–3 in body

    How the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation


    Paragraphs 4–6 in body

    How the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation

  5. 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.

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