Compare & Contrast Essays for High School

by Janet Rutherford

    Every day we make decisions that require us to compare and contrast two or more items. When we decide what to buy, what to wear or where to dine, we compare two or more products, garments or restaurants. Comparing and contrasting different items helps people to think more critically about the subject, whether it's an everyday decision or an academic exercise. To compare and contrast in a high school essay, address similarities (comparisons) and differences (contrasts) between two or more topics.

    Making charts and Venn diagrams to show similarities and differences between two subjects are excellent ways for writers to organize their thoughts before they start writing their essay. To develop a compare and contrast chart, list the points you want to consider on the left side of the page and write the subjects or topics across the top of the page. Then write a brief note on how each point fits with each topic to find where they are similar and where they differ. To make a Venn diagram, draw two overlapping circles -- one for each of the two subjects. In the middle, where the circles overlap, list the traits the subjects share. The differences, or traits that the subjects do not share, should be listed in the outer areas of the circles.

    Most good essays have a focused thesis statement to guide the development of the writing. In a compare and contrast paper, the thesis statement identifies the subjects and the basis for comparison, and it tells the reader whether the essay will emphasize similarities or differences. The following is an example of a thesis statement for an essay that emphasizes similarities: "Despite their differences in classroom management techniques, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith both provide a rigorous curriculum and encourage their students to work hard." In contrast, if the essay emphasizes differences, the thesis statement could take the following approach: "Although Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith are both excellent teachers, they have different classroom-management techniques."

    When deciding how to organize a compare and contrast paper for high school, consider the method that best presents your points of similarities and differences. Point-by-point analysis and subject-by-subject analysis are the most common ways to develop a compare and contrast paper. The point-by-point method requires you to discuss each point of comparison or contrast between each subject before you discuss a new point. Conversely, the subject-by-subject method discusses each point for one subject before discussing the related points for the second subject.

    For many high school students, the subject-by-subject method provides a simple way to organize and present comparison and contrast points to the reader. In the first paragraph after the introduction, address the first subject’s traits without mentioning the second subject. Remember to provide examples that show the similarities and differences between the subjects. For example, if you are writing an essay that compares and contrasts your favorite teachers, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith, points of comparison and contrast could include classroom management, teaching styles and extracurricular involvement. After you discuss Mr. Jones’s classroom management, teaching style and extracurricular activities, describe Mrs. Smith using the same points you provided for Mr. Jones.

    With the point-by-point method, use a separate paragraph to address each point of comparison and contrast. Begin with a topic sentence to introduce the reader to the first point; next, describe the first point for the first subject and give evidence to support that claim. For example: "The most notable difference between Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith is their classroom management techniques. Mr. Jones uses a democratic approach to managing his class. For example, he allows students to develop classroom rules and consequences." In the next few sentences, state Mrs. Smith’s management style and include a sentence or two to support your claims.

    About the Author

    Janet Rutherford began her writing career in 2006. She served as an English teacher and education consultant for 15 years. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English education from Rust College and a Master of Education in educational leadership from the University of Mississippi.

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