The comparison-contrast essay has two purposes: the most familiar is to offer a thesis that says
one element of the comparison is better than another, as in an essay that might compare living at home
with your parents as opposed to living on your own in an apartment. You might argue that the freedom
of living on your own, eating Raman noodles, and doing your own laundry outweighs the benefits of
your mother’s cooking and washing of your clothes, with the attendant limits on your freedom, such as
curfews and chores. Or you might argue the reverse: that the limits on your freedom are worth the hot
meals and clean clothes of living at home, and that living on your own is just a lot of cold pizza for
breakfast and electricity bills.
The other purpose of comparison-contrast is not to say that one thing is better than another, but
rather to present two or more elements side by side to illustrate their similarities and/or differences. It
does not say that one is better than the other(s), but attempts to show them in clear distinction, with
the idea that something new about them might be discovered.
Discovering your purpose in writing a comparison-contrast is a good way of thinking about your
paper, making some decisions about your topics are. But when it comes to actually writing the paper,
you need to think about the two methods of comparison-contrast: subject-by-subject and point-by-
The subject-by-subject method is sometimes called the “block method.” That’s because in this
method the writer puts all the information about one of his topics into a block in the paper and all the
information about the other topic in another block. That is, if you’re comparing A and B, in the subject-
by-subject method, you would make all your points about A before you wrote about the points of B. An
outline of the subject-by-subject method comparing Renaissance and Impressionist painters might look
1. First major point about Renaissance painters is their use of perspective.
2. Second major point about Renaissance painters is their subject matter.
3. Third major point about Renaissance painters is their choice of materials.
4. First major point about Impressionists is their use of perspective.
5. Second major point about Impressionists is their subject matter.
6. Third major point about Impressionists is their choice of materials.
As much as possible you want to touch upon the same major points for each of the topics. So, if
you discuss use of perspective with the Renaissance painters, you should discuss perspective in your
discussion of Impressionists.
Conversely, the point-by-point method puts the points about each topic side by side. In a sense,
you are writing about both topics at the same time. An outline of the same paper done in the point-by-
point method could look like this:
1. First major point about use of perspective.
a. Renaissance painters
2. Second major point about subject matter.
a. Renaissance painters
3. Third major point about choice of materials
a. Renaissance painters
For your comparison-contrast essay, you will use the subject by subject format. You will not do
the two-paragraph introduction for this assignment. You will write a one-paragraph introduction. It will
consist of background information (as will most of the essays you write in college).
Then you will write all the paragraphs about the first topic. Before you begin the second half of the
paper, you will write a special paragraph. It will work as a transition between the first half of the paper
and the second half. In addition to being a transition, the paragraph will also contain the thesis. The
thesis, therefore, will be in the middle of the paper.
Then you will write the paragraphs about the second topic. it is in this second half of the paper that
you begin to compare and contrast your subjects: that is to say, you don't mention the second topic
when you're writing about the first topic. But when you're writing about the second topic, you compare
or contrast it to the first.
Your conclusion will be the same as usual: restate thesis, draw some larger conclusion.
As you read the sample essay, notice the subject by subject structure, notice the transition
paragraph, and notice that the comparison and contrast words are used in the second half of the paper.
SAMPLE COMPARISON-CONTRAST ESSAY
MY MOTHER AND MY BEST FRIEND’S MOTHER:
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
In high school, my best friend was Larry Helmick. Almost every weekend, I would spend the night
at his house or he would stay at mine. Mostly we stayed at his house, though, because his family was a
little better off than mine since both his mother and father worked and my mother was raising her
children by herself. My father had left some time ago. There was just more to eat and more to do at his
house than at mine. Staying at his house gave me a chance to see how differently our mothers ran their
Mrs. Helmick was a very proper “lady,” if you will. She always wore a dress in the house. She only
wore slacks when she was working in the yard, which was pretty rare. She ran the vacuum cleaner
wearing high heels. She always wore her makeup, even on Saturdays. Mrs. Helmick’s dinners were
balanced: a meat, a vegetable, a starch, and a dessert. Larry and his sister Liz had to dress for dinner.
Larry had to wear long pants and a collared shirt. The first time I ate dinner with them Mrs. Helmick gave
me a long, disapproving look for wearing short pants and a tee shirt to the table.
I had never been in a house that had a living room and a family room. I always thought they were
the same thing. But Mrs. Helmick’s living room was not for living. The furniture in there was very fancy
and very clean. Larry told me he was not really allowed to go in there much. We always stayed in the
family room watching TV or in his room listening to music. Mrs. Helmick was very strict about the living
room. I never saw anyone in there.
It was a lot different at Larry’s house than at mine. But Mrs. Helmick always made me feel
welcome and treated me like one of the family. To this day I know that, at heart, she was a good person,
even if she was a little rigid in some of her values. My mother was very different.
Unlike Mrs. Helmick, my mother was not much of a “lady.” She dressed nicely enough to go to
work at the telephone company, but when she walked through the door at 5:30, she kicked off her
shoes and changed into her pajamas and her old pink chenille robe. She washed off her makeup and
started supper, always either chili or spaghetti. I only knew the difference because there were noodles
under the spaghetti sauce and the chili had beans in it. We ate on TV trays in front of the TV. Most of the
places we lived had no dining room table. Most didn’t have a dining room.
At my house, we lived in the living room. It was the family room. In contrast to Mrs. Helmick’s
house, it was always messy. I never saw my mother vacuum. I don’t remember that we had a vacuum
cleaner. We all watched TV together. Larry always liked my mother because he could joke around with
her. She was very easy-going. He could make a mess and lay around doing nothing, just like me, and my
mother never yelled at him about it.
The differences in our mothers were obvious and plentiful. They were probably based on the
difference in the amount of money we had and the fact that Larry had two parents and I had only one.
But personality played a big part too. Mrs. Helmick had an idea about what a family should be and what
their house should look like. My mother was just trying to survive day-to-day. Larry always preferred my
house. Somehow, I liked his better.
You can see how my essay was organized by looking at all the points about Larry’s mother before
looking at all the points about my mother. That is, I dealt with all the points about Mrs. Helmick and
then all the points about my mother. That is called subject-by-subject.
Notice that I didn't mention my mother when I talked about Mrs. Helmick, but I mentioned Mrs.
Helmick when talking about my mother. You will likewise begin to use comparison and contrast in the
second half of your paper.
THIRD ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: COMPARISON-CONTRAST ESSAY
For your comparison-contrast essay you will again write about your own lives. Select one of the
topics below and write an essay of 1000 words. Again, the list below is not exhaustive. There are many
possibilities. If you have a topic in mind and a thesis that can be proved by using specific examples in a
comparison-contrast format, then I’m willing to discuss your writing about it. However, all topics must
be approved by me in advance.
Two rooms where you spend a good deal of time.
Neighborhood stores and shopping malls.
Living at home and living in a dorm or apartment.
Watching a movie on television and viewing it in a theater.
Two approaches to parenting.
Marriage and living together.
The atmosphere in two classes.
Two approaches to studying.
Two movies of the same genre.
Typewriter and word processor.
Your attitude before and after getting to know someone.
Two friends with different lifestyles.
Two cities you have lived in.
Two schools you went to.
Double space the essay. Type the essay using a 14-point font. Use Times New Roman. Use the MLA
format for typing papers.