Compare and contrast essays are common college assignments that test your critical thinking skills as well as your essay writing. The task may seem daunting, but don’t panic – I am here to help with any possible hurdles:
- Getting started: what does compare and contrast actually mean?
- Good compare and contrast essay topics: what should I write about?
- Making your case: how should I write in the essay introduction and body paragraphs?
Follow this simple guide to write a successful compare and contrast essay!
What Does Compare and Contrast Mean?
Very simply, to compare and contrast is to consider two (or more) things and observe what is similar about those things and what is different about them. Think of it this way: to compare is to find the qualities, attributes, etc, that are the same and to contrast is to find the ways in which they differ. In a compare and contrast essay, you write about and analyze the observations you have made.
For example, let’s compare and contrast a penguin and a pigeon. When we compare the two, we can observe that both are birds, both have feathers, both have beaks, and both lay eggs. They are different in that pigeons can fly and penguins cannot, penguins are excellent swimmers and pigeons are not, and they both live in very different climates. Those are the contrasts. In an essay, we’d then go on to discuss those observations in detail.
Compare and Contrast Essay Ideas
Writing a good essay largely depends on what you choose to write about, as you need to find two comparable subjects – people, books, traditions, phenomena, etc. Here are some ideas, grouped by subject, to help get you started!
1. Family life now and 100 years ago (consider the age people enter the marriage, attitude to sex life before marriage, attitude to and prevalence of divorce, the prevalence of married women in labor, child-rearing practices, etc.)
2. Environmental impact of humanity now and 100 years ago
3. Awareness of personal footprint and striving for sustainability in society over the last two decades (go beyond sorting of the waste; consider the impact of the rising awareness on the fur industry, the reluctance of the young generation to work in oil companies, refusing from meat due having overpopulation reasons in mind, etc.)
4. Portrayal of women in advertisements of mid-20s century vs now
5. Common jobs in the 18th century and today
6. Funerals in the past and today
7. Important holidays in the past and today
8. Voting rights in the past and today
9. Immigration to the U.S. in the past and today (compare and contrast the reasons for immigration, its prevalence, requirements of the state, etc.)
10. Communism versus libertarianism
11. The role of religion in creating legislation in different countries/cultures
12. Socializing in the past and now
13. Offline vs online business in 2021
14. The use of robotics now vs 10 years ago
15. The 2020s in the fantastic movies and prediction of the past vs “the future” as it is now
16. NASA vs SpaceX
Related: Sociology Research Topics
1. Public vs private education
2. Traditional school vs homeschooling
3. Online vs offline education
4. Old vs new methods of teaching
5. Accessibility of higher education in the last two decades (consider what barriers have been tackled; have the rising student debt and Covid become the new barriers to consider?)
6. School curriculum change over the last two decades (what has changed, what is no longer taught, what new classes and teaching methods appeared; note the increased focus on STEM, sustainability, disappearing cursive classes, sex education, etc.)
Related: Argumentative Essay Topics on Education
1. Healthcare systems in America and elsewhere in the world (this is a helpful article to start with)
2. Cloning vs gene modification
3. Healthy living over the last decade/ in different socio-economic groups (compare the attitudes to healthy food, Macdonalds, smoking, binge drinking, exercising, etc. now and twenty years ago; alternatively, compare and contrast the statistics for the affluent and poor citizens)
4. Abortion laws in the U.S. and other countries (this is a useful article to start with)
5. Traditional doctor appointments vs telemedicine
6. How is depression diagnosed and treated now compared to the past decades (you may also consider the change in the treatment of other illnesses and conditions that are believed to be medicalized, such as obesity, alcoholism, menopause, etc.)
7. Traditional medicine vs. homeopathy
8. Covid-19 vs Spanish flu epidemics
9. The response to Covid-19 in two different states (see this post for more Covid-related essay topics and facts)
10. Aguments for and against mandadory vacination
11. Nursing home care vs assisted living
Related: Controversial Medical Topics for an Essay
Philosophy and Ethics
1. Compare and compare two Abrahamic religions.
2. Plato versus Aristotle.
3. Utilitarian ethics versus deontological ethics.
4. The influence of philosophy historically compared to today.
5. Interpretations of philosophical texts in different cultures/countries.
6. Pro-life vs pro-choice arguments in the abortion debate (if you struggle to find similarities other than relating to one topic, consider what these arguments fail to account for; for example, both have men out of the equation, see more ideas for an abortion essay here).
7. Work ethics vs personal ethics.
8. Compare and contrast two leadership theories.
9. Compare and contrast liberal and radical feminism (the other two types of feminism that can be compared are equality feminism and difference feminism).
10. Patriotism versus nationalism/ cosmopolitanism (see this guide on writing a patriotism essay)
Related: Philosophy and Ethics Essay Topics
Art and Literature
1. art by the same artist at different points in their career (for example, Picasso’s The Old Fisherman and Le Matador).
2. art depicting the same subject in very different styles (for example, a park by in Pointillist style and another in Cubist style).
3. the work of two artists working in the same time/place (for example, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni).
4. the reception of an artists’ work during their lifetime compared to today; attitudes towards art and artists in different cultures.
5. Two pieces of work by the same writer at different times in their life (for example, A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweet Bird of Youth by Tenessee Williams).
6. Novels written at the same time portraying the same place (for example, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s Emma)
7. Work by poets regarded as part of the same movement (for example, Keats and Coleridge of the Romantics)
8. Exploration of the same theme (for example, the portrayal of ‘good versus evil’ in Lord of the Rings and Alice in Wonderland)
How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay
Chosen your topic? Okay, good! Let’s think about actually writing the essay.
An introduction is an opportunity to set expectations for the rest of the work – so let’s set them high! It’s important to begin the essay with a hook that will draw in your reader. Then, introduce the two (or more) things you will be discussing. Briefly outline the similarities and differences you will discuss. Lastly, clearly state your thesis.
Here’s an example of an introduction to an essay comparing and contrasting traditional television and online streaming services:
Almost half of Americans born after the year 1978 do not own a television (hook). Young people seem to have fallen out of love with television in just a few short decades; in the year 2000, most Americans watched their television set for at least two hours a day. But why have we abandoned this once-loved pastime? The answer is simple: online streaming services (both things have been introduced). In its heyday, television was extremely popular among young people, as streaming services are now. Both provide entertainment, show a wide range of media of different genres, inform us about what’s going on in the world around us and connect us as a society (outline of similarities). However, there are several differences between the two. Television lacks the diversity of modern streaming services, viewers are forced to watch programs curated by the channel, and there is far less freedom of choice. That said, less time in front of the television means less time watching the news and less community spirit. Streaming services can also be expensive (outline of differences). It would, however, seem that modern streaming services are overall superior to good, old-fashioned TV (thesis statement).
For more help on writing introductions, check out Essay Introduction Paragraph: Essential Elements and Examples.
Here are top rules for creating a strong thesis statement for a compare and contrast essay:
- Relevant to the type of essay you’re writing. In an essay where we’re going to compare two things, the thesis statement should compare two things!
- Debatable. Show that you’ve come to your own conclusion about something and are sharing your findings. “Cake is delicious” would not, for example, be a successful thesis statement.
- Narrow. Make sure you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew with a thesis statement covering an enormous topic.
- Well-structured. A parallel structure will make a long thesis statement easier to read and understand.
For more help on thesis statements, take a look at A Strong Thesis Statement: Tips and Examples.
In the first paragraph after your introduction, provide some context for your essay. Why are you writing about this? Why now? For the example given above, you can further back up the introductory statement with some statistics, showing that you have done your research about the subject. For example, compare the number of TV sets bought in 2000 compared to 2020, or show the fall in live viewing ratings for popular programs. For streaming services, you might mention how many people subscribe to Netflix or Hulu, or how much money streaming sites are making. Make sure you cite any sources you use properly, for maximum marks!
Next, discuss the similarities between the two things you are discussing. How long this section will depend on how similar your subjects are! For some topics, you can have a fairly long section on similarities. However, if you were writing about radically different political systems, points of view, or works of art, then your comparison section may be shorter.
Discuss the differences in the order you’ve outlined them in the introduction. Make sure the similar and different points are contributing to your thesis. For example, if I were to argue that there are too many cartoons on Netflix and too many soaps on mainstream TV, that wouldn’t contribute to my argument. However, if you were to argue that television can offer live updates on current affairs, in a way that Hulu does not, that would contribute to an argument about which one is, overall, superior.
Other Writing Tips
Choose the right topic: Before you get started, you might find it helpful to make a list of all the similarities and differences between the things you are comparing. Make sure there are enough similarities to make your argument seem sensible. For example, pop music and classical music are both music genres but, beyond that, there’s no real reason to compare them. However, if you compare something like family life in the past and now, there are lots of things you can discuss in your essay and this leads to larger inferences about the social change that has taken place.
Do your research: Research the topic you will discuss as much as possible and be prepared to discuss the positive aspects of both things you are comparing. In the long run, this will actually make your argument stronger.
What would you compare and contrast if you could write about anything? Share your idea in the comments!