Essay 3: Comparison and Contrast

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Essay 3: Comparison and Contrast

Topic: For your second essay, you will use the comparison-and-contrast method of organization to write a paper comparing two items. In your essay you must take a position on the subject, present information about both sides, and convince the reader of your position.

You have your choice of these subjects:

Owing versus renting a home

Getting married versus living together as a couple

Paper or plastic bags for groceries

One of the topics we vote on in class today: ______________________________



Sources: For this essay, you must refer to two sources, and document those sources in MLA style. This means that you will make reference to written works in the writing of your essay: this might be a quote that adds color or authority to your essay, or presenting a fact that you have found in your reading. You have your choice of the following types of sources:

  • Newspapers or magazines that appear in print, like the Keene Sentinel or Boston Globe

  • Assigned readings you’ve done for this class (if using a handout, ask well ahead of time if you’re unclear of its source—no last minute excuses!)

  • Articles found on EBSCOhost (this is the online database we used in our computer lab the first week of class.) You can access EBSCOhost in the school computer lab or from your home computer

    • Go to

    • Click on Library> Library Databases> EBSCOhost

    • Enter the username and password you were given

Peer/Instructor: When the peer draft is due, bring one copy of a first draft of the essay to class to use in peer review and bring a copy of any sources you’ve incorporated so far. When the instructor draft is due, bring in the final draft of the essay for me to read and respond to, and a printout or photocopy of the first page of any sources you use in the essay (unless they’re assigned readings for the course). You must attach your peer draft and any peer review you've received; anything that led up to the final product.

Grade Weight: This essay is worth 12% of your grade for the course.
Format: There are no minimum or maximum number of pages for this essay. Just write as much as you need to in order to make it a good essay. Use one-inch margins and 11 point font, and double-space the entire essay.

Cite sources in MLA format, with in-text citations and a Works Cited list. Look up the correct way to format the entry for your particular type of source in Diana Hacker.

Read on for a description of compare/contrast and how to write an essay of this kind.

Comparison-and-contrast is a strategy used across the curriculum: by examining two subjects side by side, we can gain clarity and insight about each of them.

Your goal is to write an essay that:

looks at the two items together,

shows the reader how they are similar and/or different

draws conclusions or makes a point based on what you have shown.

Keys for success:

  • Think about your readers. (Write for an audience of college-level readers who don’t know the works as well as you do.) What do they know? What should they know? Why should they care? Answering these questions will help you understand both your readers and your purpose for writing.

  • Know your purpose. What do you want the essay to do? Inform? Explain? Persuade? Some combination of these? Knowing your purpose will help you decide what to include (and not include) in the essay, how to organize it, and how to help readers use the information.

  • Be logical. Comparing and contrasting is a logical process that helps you understand your subjects more fully and explain them more clearly. Begin by determining the basis of your comparison: how are the subjects related? Then decide whether to compare, to contrast, or both. When comparing subjects, show how they are similar. When contrasting them, show how they are different. When comparing and contrasting subjects, show how they are both similar and different. To choose which of the three patterns to follow, think about your purpose. Which pattern will help your essay accomplish what you want it to do?

There are two classic patterns for comparison and contrast: subject by subject or trait by trait.

Subject by subject:

  • Opening—get reader’s attention and introduce the two subjects and thesis.

  • Middle—describe one “package” of traits representing the first subject and a parallel set of traits representing the second subject.

  • Conclusion—point our similarities and or differences, note their significance, and restate your main point.

Trait by trait:

  • Opening—get readers’ attention and introduce the two subjects and thesis.

  • Middle—compare and/or contrast the two subjects trait by trait (include transitions that help readers look back and forth between the two subjects).

  • Conclusion—summarize the key relationships, note their significance, and restate your main point.

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