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.
Comparison and Contrast Essay: Block Method
There are two basic patterns writers use for comparison/contrast essays: the block method and the point-by-point method. In the block method, you describe all the similarities in the first body paragraph and then all the differences in the second body paragraph. The guideline below will help you remember what you need to do in each part of a comparison/contrast essay using the block method.
1. Attract the reader’s attention.
2. Provide background information about your topic.
3. Identify the two things being compared and contrasted.
4. State the purpose for making the comparison and/or contrast.
5. State the thesis.
1. In the first paragraph, discuss the similarities.
2. In the next paragraph, discuss the differences.
1. Paraphrase the thesis.
2. Summarize the main similarities and differences.
3. Paraphrase the importance of the topic.
Block Method Student Essay
Fighting the Battle against Drugs
The use of drugs has increased in recent years, according to numerous articles in medical journals. They threaten communities all over the world because of how affect the organs of the body and their functions. Crack and cocaine are two of these dangerous drugs. Thus, it is important for health care professionals to have knowledge about them in order to deal with any problems related to their use that patients may experience. While they may appear similar at first glance, in fact they have three major differences.
Crack and cocaine have three similar effects on the human body. Although crack is heat resistant and cocaine is destroyed by heat, both cause hypertension. Also, crack and cocaine bring about physiological and psychological damage, depending on pre-existing conditions and the extent of drug use. For example, hallucination, psychosis, paranoia and aggressive behavior may occur, and an overdose of either may cause cardiac collapse or convulsion. Finally, use of both drugs can lead to addiction.
Despite crack and cocaine’s similarities, they have three major differences. First, although crack and cocaine are derived from the coca plant, they differ in form. Crack has the form of flakes whereas cocaine is found in the form of powder, which can be dissolved. Furthermore, both crack and cocaine contain cocaine, but in various percentages: crack contains as much as 90 percent pure cocaine whereas cocaine contains from 15 to 25 percent pure cocaine. Another major difference is how they enter the body. For example, crack is smoked in a pipe or cigarette. It enters the body by the lungs into the bloodstream. Cocaine, on the other hand, is inhaled as a powder or is injected if dissolved. It enters the body via the nasal mucosa into the bloodstream or, if injected, directly via the bloodstream.
In conclusion, it can be seen that, while being alike in three ways, these two drugs differ in three ways. They affect the body in similar ways. Both can lead to physiological problems such as convulsions and psychological problems such as hallucinations.Furthermore, their use may result in addiction. However, cocaine and crack differ in form, content of pure cocaine and method of entry into the body. Therefore, it is important that health care professionals know about these drugs.