Perhaps you have been assigned a comparative essay in class, or you need to write a comprehensive comparative report at work.
In order to write an outstanding paper, you must begin by identifying two subjects that have enough in common and differences that lend themselves to the meaningful comparison. An example might be two teams or two government systems. Then you need to find at least two or three points on which they can be compared, using research, facts and well-formed paragraphs that will help impress and captivate your readers. Writing a comparative essay is an important skill that will come in handy more than once in your academic career.
Steps to writing a comparison essay
1. Analyze the question carefully
You may have great ideas in your head for writing, but if it doesn’t exactly fit the assigned topic, you will lose points. Review the leading questions (or the heading, if there is one) and underline the key phrases. Keep a list of them in front of you throughout your paper.
- What constraints are present in the topic?
- What specifically does the teacher want to see in your work?
2. Examine the subjects to be compared
Although it will be tempting to delve into the details of the items being compared, it is important to provide no more detail than the format of the assignment requires. Compare a few aspects of each topic instead of trying to cover both topics in their entirety.
3. Write your essay out of order
No, seriously. You may have been taught to sit down and start scribbling from beginning to end, but that’s not only harder, but it also makes your ideas incoherent. Instead, do this:
- Start with the main body of the paper. Work through all the information you have and see what story it tells you. Only when you process your data will you know which paragraph of your paper will be the most voluminous.
- The second step is the conclusion. Now that you’ve done the hardest part, the main idea of your paper is clearly presented to you. Smoke it while it’s hot.
- At the end is the introduction. Basically, it’s a reorganization/reframing of your conclusion. Be careful not to use the same words and phrases.
4. Write the main body paragraphs
The first sentence of the main body paragraph (often called the key sentence) prepares the reader for what the paragraph will be about. The middle part of the paragraph reveals the information you’ve gathered, and the last sentence draws a small conclusion based on that information. Be careful not to break paragraph boundaries by creating one big paragraph revealing two topics. That’s the challenge of a closing paragraph.
- Structure your paragraphs using one of the methods below. Once you have decided on the paragraphs you will compare, decide what paragraph structure you will use (how the comparisons will be arranged) to give the data the most relevance. It is recommended that you first sketch out an outline (as a pointer to where you will fill in) to successfully organize the transitions.
- Be careful not to correlate different aspects of each item. Comparing the color of one object to the size of another will in no way allow the reader to compare them.
5. Write a conclusion
When the essay is finished, the reader should get the impression that he or she has learned something new, and should feel that the work is complete, rather than looking for missing pages. The conclusion should cover the brief, basic information you used in the main body paragraphs and then draw a larger conclusion about the two subjects. (Your conclusion should be based on facts, not personal preferences, especially if the assignment recommended a neutral manner.) The last sentence should leave the reader with the feeling that all the ideas expressed in the essay are closely related and represent a coherent whole.
- Keep in mind that different comparisons do not always lead to unambiguous conclusions, usually because of the different values of different people. If necessary, make the parameters of your arguments more specific. (For example, “Although X is more stylish and powerful, better safety ratings make Y more suitable as a ‘family car.'”)
- If the subjects under discussion are drastically different, it is sometimes still possible to identify some common ground before jumping to conclusions. (For example, “Although X and Y have nothing in common at first glance, in fact, they both…”)
6. Write an introduction
Start with general points that point out the similarities of the subjects under discussion and move on to a more detailed discussion of the essay. Write a key sentence at the end of the essay that begins by pointing out aspects of each subject you plan to compare and then states the conclusion you are leading up to.
7. Check your work
If the case holds up, the best way is to put off work for 24 hours. Step back, have a snack, a drink, a distraction – forget about the essay until tomorrow. When you get to the revision, remember that the two most important things are to find inconsistencies and correct them. Do this in two steps. During the first reading, identify the flaws in your work, and correct them during the second reading. It’s tempting enough to redo them all at once, but it’s wise to correct them one at a time. This will help make sure you have checked everything, and in the long run, it’s much faster and more efficient.
- If you can, ask a friend to review your essay, they can see the mistakes you missed.
- Sometimes it’s helpful to increase and decrease the font while you’re checking your work to change the visual arrangement of the text. If you look at the same thing for a long time, your brain begins to perceive what it expects instead of what it sees. This will increase the chance of finding all the errors.