How to Write a Comparative Essay
Analyze the question or essay prompt carefully. You may have a great idea for a paper in your head, but if it doesn’t perfectly match the prompt, you may not create the product your instructor has asked for.Look over the prompt (and rubric, if you have one) carefully and underline key phrases. Keep a list of these things by you as you work.
- Many comparative essay assignments will signal their purpose by using words such as “compare,” “contrast,” “similarities,” and “differences” in the language of the prompt.
- Also see whether there are any limits placed on your topic.
Understand the type of comparison essay you are being asked to write. While some essays may be simple compare/contrast essays, others may ask you to begin with that framework and then develop an evaluation or argument based on your comparisons. For these essays, simply pointing out that things are similar or different will not be sufficient.
- The assignment will generally ask guiding questions if you are expected to incorporate comparison as part of a larger assignment. For example: “Choose a particular idea or theme, such as love, beauty, death, or time, and consider how two different Renaissance poets approach this idea.” This sentence asks you to compare two poets, but it also asks how the poets approach the point of comparison. In other words, you will need to make an evaluative or analytical argument about those approaches.
- If you’re unclear on what the essay prompt is asking you to do, talk with your instructor. It’s much better to clarify questions up front than discover you’ve written the entire essay incorrectly.
List similarities and differences between the items you are comparing. Even though you are being asked to write a comparison essay, the inclusion of contrasting material is also implied. The best place to start is to write a list of things that the items you are comparing have in common as well as differences between them.
Evaluate your list. It is likely that you will not be able to write about everything on your list. Read through the list and try to identify a theme or patterns among items that are listed. This can help you decide on the basis of your comparison.
- You may want to develop a system such as highlighting different types of similarities in different colors.
- For example, if you are comparing two novels, you may want to highlight similarities in characters in pink, settings in blue, and themes or messages in green.