It’s all in the outline: mastering the compare and contrast essay

It’s all in the outline: mastering the compare and contrast essay

Writing clearly and concisely is one of the most important skills that you can learn and develop while you are still in school. Learning to write an effective essay teaches you to investigate, interpret, and communicate information, which will serve you later in life. All good essays, including narrative; compare and contrast; descriptive; argumentative; expository; cause and effect; and persuasive essays begin with an outline that will help you to organize your ideas. Creating an outline before you even start a rough draft will help you to organize your ideas, identify gaps that need to be filled in, and help you to write with ease. Here are some tips on writing an effective outline for an essay, which will help you master writing for a good grade now and communicating effectively in a job later on in life.


Do you need to look at how two ideas, subjects, or topics are alike or different? Well, you are writing a compare and contrast essay. A compare and contrast essay is not just comparing two subject matters. It is more than that. To write an effective compare and contrast essay outline, keep in mind:

  • You must establish that one subject is primary over another.
  • You must clear up and explain common misconceptions about both subjects.
  • You must give ideas on how to do or understand something differently.
  • You must talk about something unknown about the subject and explain it.
  • You must support your facts with reliable sources that provide accurate information.

There are many ways to organize your ideas into an outline for a compare and contrast essay. Here are some to get you started.


Use this organizational outline when you are comparing related subjects, or if you have to identify a few “points” when evaluating them. In each paragraph, you will write your introductory sentence, write about the first subject and all of its details, and then write about the second subject and its details. The next paragraph will compare another point and how the subjects are related to that point, and so on. Each paragraph speaks on one point of comparison while comparing the two subject matters.


What do you do when two subject matters that are completely different from one another (like apples and dragons) or deal with multiple points of comparison? If this is the case, try writing a compare and contrast essay outline organized by item, not points.

When comparing two completely different subject matters, both may not fit within a particular topic or criteria (again, think apples and dragons). When you need to evaluate two different subjects, you want to ensure that your ideas are clear so the reader can follow along. Each body paragraph gives you the opportunity to explore each subject area in depth, and not focus on trying to find connecting concepts. Following your explanation of the subject matter, you can then write two following paragraphs: one examining the similarities between the topics and one explaining the differences.

Once you have completed your outline, the rough draft will flow nicely. Your essay is already pretty much written, now you just need to write your sentences and compose the paragraphs, based on methods of organization that you have chosen.


The introduction of a compare and contrast essay does not vary much from other types of essays. You still need to introduce your topic, communicate what you attempting to compare and contrast, and capture the reader’s attention.

All introductions have three main components:

  • You must introduce the main idea. Hook the reader in with a sentence that is about the topic. Different methods of doing this include opening with a question the reader can relate to, a quote about the topic, or an anecdote which opens the essay with a story.
  • You must name the subjects that you are attempting to distinguish or compare. Don’t get into the specifics just yet, just mention the topics that you will be evaluating throughout the essay.
  • You must write a thesis statement. This is the most crucial part of any essay because all topic sentences will have to relate back to the thesis. The thesis statement tells the reader the main point of your essay. It should be clear, concise, one sentence long, and must tell the audience exactly what you are trying to say in your essay.

Once you have completed the introduction and formulated an excellent thesis statement, you can start composing the body of your compare and contrast essay, which will provide proof your reader needs to agree or disagree with.


The length of your essay and number of body paragraphs you have depends on how many points you have, or how many different topics you are attempting to compare and contrast under your subject area. If, you are only comparing two things (apples and dragons) you only need two main body paragraphs. If you are comparing apples, dragons, and boats, you will need three paragraphs. The number of different aspects that you need to contrast may be assigned by your teacher (or customer if you are doing this for a job), or you may need to use your creative juices and figure this out for yourself.

If you are running short on ideas of what criteria you can compare and contrast, you can always brainstorm by using a Venn diagram. Draw two overlapping circles. The larger circles will be your contrast, and the shape they share in the middle will be your similarities. This is an effective tool that will help you create new, fresh perspective to use in your writing. Remember, three criteria are usually enough for a compare and contrast essay (unless you are instructed to do otherwise).

When you work on your Venn diagram, and after you begin researching the reliable sources, you may find that you have too many ideas to work with. To keep your essay clear and concise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the teacher or client specifically asking me for?
  • Is the information I want to include relevant to their request?
  • What is going to be engaging for the reader?
  • What is the most informative data that the reader doesn’t already know?
  • Is it relevant and important to the point I am trying to make?

The topic sentence is one of the most important parts of your body paragraph. Not only does it introduce what the paragraph is about, it relates to your thesis statement. Each topic sentence focuses on one topic or criterion, explaining what you are trying to compare and contrast.

After you craft your topic sentence, you need to support your thoughts with evidence. You can use data, statistics, case studies and a variety of other details that you find in your reliable resources. An essay is about explanation and evaluation, not just listing the similarities and differences about each topic.

There are many words that you can use to connect your ideas and show how you are comparing or contrasting your topics. Here are just some, for inspiration:

  • Similar to
  • Although
  • However,
  • In common
  • Either…or
  • On the contrary,
  • Neither…nor
  • Otherwise
  • Just as
  • Differ from

Be careful to avoid bias or judgment when writing. It is up to the reader to make their own evaluation. Your job is to present the facts in a fair way, and that will keep the audience reading.


The easiest part of your essay to write is the conclusion because you are just summing up what you have already written. Plus, you need to make sure that it is well organized. There are three parts to the conclusion (much like an introduction but instead of introducing you are summarizing) that you need to incorporate in your compare and contrast essay:

  • The summary sentence tells the reader what points you made during your essay. Do not start this sentence with “in conclusion.”
  • Evaluate the information you presented in your essay and offer the reader an analysis.
  • Write a final sentence which clarifies the main point of your essay. What is the whole purpose of writing it? Just a suggestion, don't tell the reader you wrote it "because it was an assignment."


Editing your rough draft is crucial to producing a good compare and contrast essay. After you organize your ideas and write them into paragraphs, you now need to edit for grammar mistakes and content.

Sometimes it is difficult to read your own writing and pick up on typos and mistakes that you make. You have been immersed in the information, and you tend to read each sentence like you wrote it without picking out the errors. One way to go about editing your paper is to read from the last sentence to the first sentence. That way, you are looking at how each sentence looks, not how the sentences flow into one another. First, read for content. Make sure that your sentences are clear, and your ideas are presented well. Then, you can start looking for capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and syntax. If you can rewrite the sentence so that it is clearer, do it. You are aiming to write the perfect essay!

Don’t let tools such as the grammar check on Microsoft Word or online programs like Grammarly be your only source for checking your work. They aren’t 100% reliable, and you need to practice the skills needed to write and edit a good paper. You can use them after you have edited your own work, just as a backup, but don’t rely solely on these tools to do the work for you. You can always ask someone else to read your compare and contrast essay and provide feedback to your content or proofread for editing errors.

Don't forget, if you use any information for your essay that comes from another source, make sure that you include them in your reference or works cited section. This is usually a whole separate page. There are a variety of formats that you can follow, but it is important for the reader to be able to look up your sources to make sure the information that you have given is reliable.

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