Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
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When Hu Jintao visited the White House earlier this year, we picked some key facts about China and the USA to compare the two superpowers.
Since then the people over at Pingdom have put together their own fact comparison of China and the US, this time with an emphasis on internet usage and the online industry.
Like us, they picked some of their figures from the CIA World factbook, but they also drew from the Internet World Stats website.
We have collected all the statistics from the Pingdom report into a spreadsheet on in the data section below.
In addition the Pingdom team summarise their findings as:
- China's Internet user base is bigger, much bigger (1.76x that of the United States).
- The US Internet infrastructure is still way ahead of China's, at least for end users.
- China has much more potential for growth in spite of already being the largest country on the Internet.
- China's Internet users run older versions of software than the US Internet users are, at least when it comes to operating systems and web browsers.
- The strong hosting industry in the United States keeps the nation ahead, especially since Internet users from all over the world use its services. (One might ask how long that will last, though.)
We also spotted the great potential of China in our figures. Perhaps the most extreme contrast we found was in the current account balance of the two countries, which showed that the US has been growing the world's largest deficit burden, while China has been running with the world's greatest budget surplus.
The GDP growth was another big contrast, the GPD growth of China is 9.6% compared to just 2.6% for the 3rd quarter of 2010.
Despite these big differences showing China's power for growing, the domestic market capitatlisation given by the world federation of exchanges was still $15tn for the US compared to only $3.6 tn for China.
We have covered before the amount of US stock that China owns, which gives an indication of country power.
So it seems our findings fit with those of Pingdom, that the balance power looks set to be shifting. What other facts would you like to know about America and China?
|Internet users (June 2010) million||420||239|
|Internet penetration (% of population) June 2010||31.6||77.3|
|Internet growth, 2000-2010 (%)||1767||152|
|Internet connection speed, Q3 2010 (Mbit/s)||1.0||5.0|
|Internet hosts, million||15.3||439.0|
|Top search engine||Baidu|
|Domain names by country of purchase, gTLDs (.com, .net, .org, .info, .biz) April 2011 - Million||4.8||76.0|
|Country code top-level domain names (ccTLDs)||3.38||1.88|
|Global share of attack traffic originating from country (%)||8.2||12.0|
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