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The Compare and Contrast Essay Prompts

July 29, 2015 - Posted to Writing

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The Compare/Contrast Essay Prompts

Apples and oranges; dogs and cats; spring and fall. These were a few of the topics we were given for a compare and contrast essay as kids in primary school. We made two columns and listed their similarities and their differences, and then we wrote two paragraphs. My thoughts about this type of essay back then were that they were really easy to write. I no longer think that. By the time I got to college, I had written several more of these essay types, and because the topics got more and more complex, the essays got more and more difficult.

The Purpose of a Compare and Contrast Essay

Obviously the purpose of this essay is to explain or discuss the similarities and/or differences between two objects, people, concepts, philosophies, etc., so that the reader has a clear understanding. The features of a compare-and-contrast essay, however, may vary. Sometimes the writer will only address the similarities; sometimes only the differences; and sometimes the assignment will require that both are addressed. As the topics become more complex, moreover, there are sometimes secondary purposes for these essays that are “givens” but not necessarily stated. Sometimes a writer may be attempting to persuade the reader that one concept or ideology is better than another, for example. So, if I were writing an essay that contrasted democracy and dictatorship, I might use terminology and descriptions that presented democracy as the better political system. And this is fine, so long as both reader and writer understand that there is an underlying purpose. If your assignment is to be objective in your comparison and contrast, however, you need to stick to information without language that shows your preference.

Organizing the Compare/Contrast Essay

There are several graphic organizers that will “walk” you through how to organize a compare and contrast essay. The simplest method is obviously the two columns we all first learned. Many students prefer a more visual representation, though, and so the Venn diagram is probably preferable. The similarities and differences are easy to see – all at a glance.

When you organize your information for the essay, it is a good idea to do so over a couple of days, because you may think of things to add that you missed the first time. And as you get ready to write, you should decide the order in which you are going to cover each item – most important to least or vice versa? The next decision is the actual structure of your piece, and you have a couple of options:

  1. You can address each item in a short paragraph, comparing and contrasting the two things within that paragraph
  2. You can use lengthier paragraphs that cover, for example, all of the similarities between two things.

The general rule is this: if you have several and/or complex similarities and/or differences, the first option is preferable. If the similarities and differences are simple and few, the second option is better. Remember, while a comparison/contrast essay will follow the basic essay format – introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion – you may have substantially more body paragraphs in this type of essay than in other types.

The Topic

You may not have an option for a topic, and if the topic is complex, you may have to do some research before you organize our points. This is common when such essays are in courses other than English comp.

If you have a choice, however, choose a topic that interests you – you will have a far easier time of it if you do. Here are some compare and contrast essay prompts that you might think about. They cross all content fields; some are quite serious; others are light and humorous. These prompts may also give you ideas for additional topics you would enjoy.

  • Fine Arts and Hard Sciences Majors
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Vegetarians and Meat Eaters
  • Daytime and Nighttime Grocery Shoppers
  • Jocks and Nerds
  • Astronomy and Astrology
  • Capitalism and Socialism
  • Traditional and Tea Party Republicans
  • Rural and Urban Lifestyles
  • School Bullies and Terrorists
  • Quantum and Particle Physics
  • Euclidean and Fractal Geometry
  • Big Bang and Other Theories
  • Creationism and Evolution
  • Riding a Roller Coaster and a Love Relationship
  • Being Grounded and Being in Jail

One Final Note: Organizing is the key to a good comparison/contrast essay. The other key, of course, is your writing skills. Do not be hesitant to seek help if you need it! After all, your grades are at stake.

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