How to Write a Comparative Essay
by Chris Angelopoulos
Writing a comparative essay sometimes gives the advantage of knowing what two items are being compared before the writing even begins. If this is not the case, the guide to brainstorming found in this same group of articles might be a good place to start. This type of essay looks at two ideas or objects, constructs a framework for analysis, describes the context that the two items exist in, states how the two are similar or different, and explains why it is reasonable to compare the two.
What’s the Angle?
The basis for comparison is the foundation of the essay. Simply recounting similarities and differences to the reader is not sufficient and does not provide enough perspective to form a coherent thesis. An entire comparative essay could be written on the style similarities and differences between Nike and Adidas shoes and an entirely different one could be written on the performance similarities and differences. Either option would provide a specific and focused thesis, whereas trying to list all similarities and differences in the same essay is too general and fails to make a point.
The first concepts to understand are the key attributes of both items being compared. This must be fully understood in order to present the case that the two subjects are similar or different. For instance, in order to compare the plot devices in two works of fiction, it can be very helpful to list all the writing techniques used in the two works. Speare can be helpful for this pre-writing step. You can create “Similarities” and “Differences” categories and add items to each category as you compare and contrast the items in question.
The Main Point
The thesis for a comparative essay is a statement based on an analysis of the relationship between two subjects. It positively states the ways they are related or different and how close the relationship is. A strong, fact-based argument is a must.
A Reasonable Comparison
Sometimes it is also necessary to explain the context which the two items being compared exist in and defend why comparison is reasonable. Using the literary work example, maybe the two authors wrote in a similar era, but came from slightly different schools of thought. It would make sense to compare the two for similarities while also highlighting the contrasts between the two writing styles.
There are two basic ways to structure a comparative essay. One method is to go back and forth between the two items and compare them based on key attributes. The other method covers key points about the first in one section and comprehensively covers the other in a second section.
Even though the structure of a comparative essay may seem restrictive at first, there are many opportunities for creativity. If selecting the two items for comparison is possible, a writer could choose two items that seem superficially different, yet have very interesting similarities upon deeper analysis. Like most papers, planning is key and sufficient preparation before beginning to write is likely to pay off by the time the end result has been realized.