33 Module 7 Writing Assignment: Writing a Comparison or Contrast Essay

Our final essay assignment requires you to make a choice: do you want to compare two subjects (show how they are similar) or contrast them (show how they are different)? As you read in the module, it is important to remember that for a basic comparison/contrast assignment, although you will consider both the similarities and differences among subjects as you gather your ideas, your essay itself will discuss EITHER the subjects’ similarities OR their differences, not both. You can write about any two subjects you want; just make sure you make an overall point about them. Your essay should ultimately evaluate how the subjects are alike or different, offering some kind of surprising insight about them or helping readers make a choice between the two. Whatever the case, just make sure that your essay makes an intriguing point; don’t just compare two things that are obviously similar or contrast two items that are obviously completely different.

Some possible subjects to consider are:

  • two kinds of art or artists
  • two products or services
  • two movies you’ve seen
  • two traveling experiences you’ve had
  • a book and its cinematic adaptation
  • an original song and a “cover” version of it
  • two restaurants
  • two fictional characters or real-life celebrities
  • two sports teams or athletes

    Step 1: Pre-Writing (Questioning, Freewriting, and Mapping)

    Any of the prewriting techniques we have discussed so far in the course can be used to generate ideas for this assignment. You might use the reporter’s questions again: ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, and how in relation to the two subjects you want to compare or contrast.

    You might also use freewriting (the process of writing freely without worrying about grammar, spelling, and sentence structure) to generate ideas about your subjects, focusing on how they are similar and/or different and what those similarities or differences mean (is one better than the other? are the two surprisingly similar in ways many people don’t expect? are they different than they may initially appear?).

Another possible prewriting choice is mapping, putting the two subjects in a large circle and then connecting other circles to that circle to represent general points of comparison or contrast related to each one. For example, if one subject was heavy metal music and the other was classical music, two music types, you might put “highly technical players,” “passionate and insulated fan bases” and “complex musical arrangements” in these circles. For each of these subcircles, you could draw more lines to more circles that connect to each example (the names of highly technical heavy metal and classical musicians might be attached to the “highly technical players” circle). This kind of exercise can help you break your topic up into points and to discover exactly how to persuade your audience that your thesis is true.

Step 2: Focusing, Outlining, and Drafting

Once you’ve come up with your subjects, your overall point (whether you are going to compare or contrast them, and for what purpose you are going to do so), and the examples that are going to help prove your point, it is very, very important for you to organize your ideas in an outline just the way we did in the module when we were discussing going to a community college and going to a state university. Like the other essays you’ve completed, a comparison or contrast essay succeeds or fails based on its organization, and an outline will help ensure that you logically express your points while navigating between the two subjects being discussed.

As you fill out the outline, remember to choose an organizational plan before you write and then stick to it. If you’re going to write a point-by-point essay, always move from one of the subjects to the other, and be consistent about the order you use (whichever subject you mention first in your thesis should be mentioned first for every point you make). If you are going to write a one-side-at-a-time style essay (where you discuss everything about one subject, and then do the same for the next one), remember not to mix up your discussion of one thing with points about the other. Finally, remember to use transitions to bridge the logical gap between one idea and the next!

Here are two basic outlines to get you started; note that you will either fill out the point-by-point outline or the one-side-at-a-time outline, not both. As you know by now, the idea is to write out a quick summation of the different sections on the lines provided. When you go to write a full draft based on the outline you’ve chosen, you will add a hook at the beginning to flesh out your introduction (which should end in your thesis statement), and each of your general example sections will become body paragraphs. You will also need to add a conclusion explaining why your overall point is important.

Remember that these outlines are just suggestions, and you can include as many examples and body paragraphs as you want as long as you stay within the assignment’s length requirements:

Point-by-Point Pattern I. Thesis Statement:

ii. General Point #1:
a. Specific Detail (subject #1): b. Specific Detail (subject #1): c. Specific Detail (subject #2): d. Specific Detail (subject #2):

iii. General Point #2:
a. Specific Detail (subject #1): b. Specific Detail (subject #1): c. Specific Detail (subject #2): d. Specific Detail (subject #2):

iv. General Point #3:
a. Specific Detail (subject #1): b. Specific Detail (subject #1): c. Specific Detail (subject #2): d. Specific Detail (subject #2):

One-Side-at-a-Time Pattern I. Thesis Statement:

ii. Subject #1:
a. Specific Detail (subject #1): b. Specific Detail (subject #1): c. Specific Detail (subject #1): d. Specific Detail (subject #1):

iii. Subject #2:
a. Specific Detail (subject #2): b. Specific Detail (subject #2): c. Specific Detail (subject #2): d. Specific Detail (subject #2):

Once you’ve figured out your outline, you are encouraged to post it in the “Comparison/Contrast Essay Outline” discussion board in the Discussions area of Blackboard so that your instructor can give you some feedback before you begin drafting. You can either attach it to a thread as a Word file or just type it into the thread itself.

After you’ve finished outlining and hopefully gotten some feedback, you are ready to draft the actual paper.

As you are drafting, you might consider using some of these transitions to help you navigate between subjects and essay parts:

Comparison Transitions:

one similarity another similarity similarly


Contrast Transitions:

one difference another difference in contrast
now/ then

Step 3: Revising, Editing, and Proofreading

Once your draft is finished, step away from it for at least a few hours so you can approach it with fresh eyes. It is also a very good idea to email it to a friend or fellow classmate or otherwise present it to a tutor or trusted family member to get feedback. Remember, writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it is meant to be read by an audience, and a writer can’t anticipate all of the potential issues an outside reader might have with an essay’s structure or language.

Whatever the case, after getting some feedback, read your essay over and consider what you might alter to make it clearer or more exciting.

Consider the following questions:

  • Does the essay clearly compare subjects OR contrast them? If it does both, something is wrong.
  • Does the essay have a clear thesis that makes a clear point about the two subjects you are examining?
  • Does each section of the body relate back to the main point?
  • Does each section have plenty of specific details to back it up and make it


  • If it’s a point-by-point essay, does each body paragraph clearly discuss both

    subjects and provide a fairly equal amount of information for each one?

  • If it’s a one-side-at-a-time essay, is each section arranged in a similar way (does each section discuss its subject’s points in the same order as the other section on the other subject)?
  • Are plenty of transitions used to help the reader navigate between the subjects being discussed and between the parts of the essay?
  • Are there any fragments, run-on sentences, or comma splices?
  • Does the essay follow the formatting requirements?

    Step 4: Evaluation

    After completing these steps, submit the essay to the instructor, who will evaluate it according to the grading criteria. (1)


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