Compare and Contrast: Bringing Differences Together

December 19, 2016

One of the standard essay assignments in high school and freshman college classes revolves around the idea of comparing and contrasting.  

The student takes two apparently different elements and perceives them from simple perspectives: how are they similar and how are they different? The basic two-pronged approach to this mode, however, can sometimes be confusing. How can this essay be contained within the standard five paragraph format?  

If the idea is to provide three elements of similarities and three differences, how can (and should) this mode be contained?

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Many students are hesitant dealing with the obvious because they fear to create something boring and inconsequential. Where they might deal with subject matter like parents, pets, or favorite musical artists, they instead try for abstract concepts.The problem with abstractions is that a compare and contrast paper demands the concrete.  

Choose two concrete subjects within the same realm and examine the polar extremes of what makes them tick.


The compare and contrast essay allows students to implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) note from their thesis where they stand:

While my parents have drastically different views on matters of faith, finance, and educational background, the strongest bond they share is their concern for my welfare.

Such a thesis will then allow the writer to elaborate on the strength of these differences, as well as build to a conclusion that such contrasts will never undermine the final goal. Their parents might be frustratingly contradictory, but they will never stop being parents.


In other words, don’t be lazy. With parents as the subject matter, we understand there are physical differences.  

There is no need to discuss if one is left-handed and the other isn’t, one has blue eyes and the other has hazel. Your subjects might be obvious, but your approach can be figurative. Elaborate on their specific different parental styles.  

Explore how some of their approaches are surprisingly similar. Carefully move between similarities and differences with a goal of emphasizing that what separates them will never overpower their greatest bond.


The compare and contrast essay can still be contained within the minimum five paragraph format, but it is easier to contain in a larger format.

Remember that the opening and ending will always be constant. Introduce with a general overview and the thesis.

Conclude with an effective summary confident enough to demonstrate that you’ve clearly proven the thesis with specific points. The length of your essay’s body will vary depending on the validity of your subject matter’s similarities and differences.


The ideal compare and contrast essay cannot afford to be an exploratory narrative. In other words, you will be best served before starting by having a clear feeling about where the strengths rest in your thesis. Are your two case studies more similar or more different? The exploratory essay is poetic in its ruminations, but it has no place here. In the compare and contrast essay, you need to see your mission as that of a social observer, or scientist having conducted research and now faced with putting it in an understandable narrative format.  

If anything, the compare and contrast are an easily understandable means of defining, evaluating, and clearly concluding on one side or the other.

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