Writing a Comparative Essay
A comparative essay asks you to discuss the similarities and differences between TWO or more works of
literature. Depending on the topic, you may be comparing characters, themes, use of imagery, or any other
Make sure you know the basis for comparison
The essay question will say exactly what you need to compare. For example, the following would be similar to
the type of question asked on the exam:
Consider TWO of the novels you have studied this year, and compare the impact of the family on TWO
characters in determining the person they became.
Is fate responsible for how our lives turn out, or does human choice guide our destiny? Explore both
sides of this question by comparing TWO of the works we have studied this year and examining the
impact of fate and human choice on TWO characters.
Develop a list of similarities and differences
Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the
items you are comparing, and compile a list of them. Then, use these similarities and differences to generate a
Your thesis needs to do the following:
Clearly address the essay question
Refer to both characters/themes/novels being addressed
Clearly list the main points of comparison/contrast
Be an interesting argument (Fate is a common theme in Night and Romeo and Juliet is just not going to
Sample thesis statement:
In both Romeo and Juliet and Night, family plays a crucial role in determining the individuals Romeo and Elie
ultimately become. Both Romeo and Elie’s families instill in them a fierce loyalty that guides their choices, and
both boys’ families are part of a greater tragedy that ultimately determines their fate, but unlike Romeo’s family
who pushes him to take his life, Elie’s family is responsible for his survival.
Notice THREE distinct arguments:
Both families instill loyalty that guides their choices (similarity)
Both families are part of a greater tragedy that determines their fate (similarity)
Romeo’s family causes his death; Elie’s family is responsible for his survival (difference)
Also, notice that I have referred to the original question. I am not just listing similarities and differences
between their families, but rather focusing on how their families impacted who they became.
1. Alternating method: Point-by-point pattern
In the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate
between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For example, with the above thesis statement, the
paragraphs would be as follows:
Body Paragraph #1—A How Romeo’s family instills loyalty that guides his choices
Body Paragraph #2—B How Elie’s family instills loyalty that guides his choices
Body Paragraph #3—A How Romeo’s family is part of a greater tragedy that determines his fate
Body Paragraph #4—B How Elie’s family is part of a greater tragedy that determines his fate
Body Paragraph #5—A How Romeo’s family is responsible for his death
Body Paragraph #6—B How Elie’s family is responsible for his survival
Depending on how many supporting points you have, you may choose to discuss both topics in ONE
comparative paragraph and even alternate between supporting points, or you may alternate between topics in
separate paragraphs. Just make sure you discuss both topics equally. You should not have an entire paragraph
about Romeo with only one line about Elie tacked onto the end of it!
When do I use the alternating method?
Teachers often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and
differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and
analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and
B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.
2. Block method: Subject-by-subject pattern
In the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block
method on the above topic would address Romeo and Juliet first, and then tackle Night in the second half of the
essay. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points
of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow
for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
When do I use the block method?
The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:
You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two
Once you’ve decided on your thesis and the format you will follow, the rest is basically just like a regular essay.
Your introduction is basically the same except you must introduce both works of literature. Then, for your body
paragraphs, you need topic sentences that refer to the thesis, supporting proof and examples, and concluding
sentences that clearly link the topic back to the thesis. Finally, the conclusion restates your thesis and end
Visvis, Vikki and Plotnick, Jerry. “The Comparative Essay”. Writing. The University of Toronto. 02 June 2011.