5 Key Steps to Writing an Exceptional Compare and Contrast Essay

It isn’t complicated.


But writing an exceptional compare and contrast essay does take effort and planning.  An excellent compare and contrast paper reveals something unique about a topic. It dives into the topic and reflects on the importance of what is compared and contrasted to enlighten its readers. 

So, creating an essay or paper that does this requires preparation and action. 

You need to write in-depth details about the subjects they compare and contrast and analyze and critique the characteristics of the subjects in your essays and papers.

Here are 5 essential steps to help you create a top-notch compare and contrast paper. See how they help you plan and write a paper with great content and critical thinking.


Step 1:  Choose a Compare and Contrast Topic

A compare and contrast essay or paper analyzes 2 or more subjects for similarities and differences.  These subjects have something in common.  For example, you can write about 2 versions of the same movie.  The movies are of the same subject but are from different years.

Your paper could compare and contrast the original Ghostbusters (1984) movie with the remake Ghostbusters (2016).   Here you will describe the similarities and differences between these 2 films.  Then consider which one is better and why it’s better.

There are a vast number of topics you can compare and contrast.  Some ideas for you are:

  • Compare and contrast world leaders.
  • Compare and contrast home, public, and private schools (you can select all of these or choose 2 categories).
  • Compare and contrast characters in a novel.
  • Compare and contrast wind energy and solar energy.
  • Compare and contrast 2 or 3 works of art from the same artist.

These are ideas to get you thinking, but there is an almost limitless list of subjects you can use.  Brainstorm your ideas and select what interests you.

Step 2:  Select Similarities and Differences

Now that you have 2 or 3 subjects you want to compare and contrast, think of each subject’s characteristics or points.  Two approaches you can use are the Venn Diagram and Listing.

Venn Diagram

A Venn Diagram shows similarities and differences of subjects.  It has 2 overlapping circles with a wide space in the middle. This space shows what the subjects have in common.  Each circle represents a subject.  List similar characteristics or points in the overlapping section.  All other points are in the outer part of the circles.  See the Compare and Contrast Paper Venn Diagram below.

Compare and Contrast Writing Venn Diagram

Compare and Contrast Paper Venn Diagram


But what if you are comparing and contrasting 3 subjects? Add a third circle to the Venn Diagram.  Part of the third circle overlaps with the other circles.  See the Compare and Contrast Paper Venn Diagram–3 Subjects below.  There is also overlapping space between the 2 subjects.  Two subjects may have something in common that differs from the third. 

Compare and Contrast Writing 3-Subject Venn Diagram

Compare and Contrast Essay Venn Diagram–3 Subjects


You can even add a 4th subject with another circle (although your Venn Diagram may get a little too crowded).

In your diagram, write down the points of each subject in a circle.  Everything the subjects have in common goes in a shared space.  Every different characteristic goes to the other part of the circle. This activity gives you a visual representation of what is in common or different with each element.


The listing method also helps you select the points you want to focus on in a paper. To do this activity, write the title/name of each subject you’re comparing and contrasting.   List all of the characteristics of each subject. Then highlight or circle the things that are similar or in common.  The things that aren’t highlighted are contrasting characteristics. Listing helps you discover what points to compare and contrast.

Step 3: Find Supporting Details and Evidence

Next, you need to find evidence that will show how the points for each subject compare and contrast with the elements of the other subject(s).  For example, if you compare and contrast two world leaders, you want to find facts about each person.  It could be evidence of decisions they made, quotes from things they said or did, etc.

As you find evidence, ask yourself the question, “So, what?”  Here are some questions to help you figure out your conclusion: 

  1. What is the significance of each piece of evidence? 
  2. What conclusion can you draw from it? 
  3. How does this piece of evidence relate to other supporting details or evidence you found?

The “So, what?” question deepens your thinking about the content of your paper.  It shows your critical analysis of each subject and point.  The analysis makes your paper more meaningful than a paper that only tells the reader what is similar and different.  Once you can answer, “So, what?” go on to outline your paper.


Step 4: Outline Your Compare and Contrast Essay

It’s easier to write a compare and contrast paper when you outline your content first. There are 2 common ways to structure a compare and contrast essay or paper: Subject by Subject or Point by Point. 

Subject by Subject

This approach is where you write about one subject and its characteristics. Then when you finish describing that subject, you write about the second subject and its characteristics. After you’ve covered both subjects, you write a section about the similarities and differences between them. Here is the outline:

I.  Introduction—hook, general background information, and thesis statement

II. Body –Write about each of the Subjects

  • PART A Subject 1—points and evidence
  • PART B Subject 2—points and evidence

III.  Similarities and Differences–describe the similarities of each subject and then differences.

IV. Conclusion —summary of thesis and significance of the paper (“So, what?”)

If you have a third subject, add a PART C section to the body of your outline.

Point by Point

This approach is where you organize your content around the points you want to make. Here you would write the point and then show how it relates to each subject.  The Point by Point format works well in papers, but it is harder to do in a compare and contrast essay. The outline for Point by Point is:

I. Introductionhook, general background information, and thesis statement

II. Body

  • PART A Point 1relationship to Subject 1, and the relationship to Subject 2
  • PART  B   Point 2—relationship to Subject 1, and the relationship to Subject 2
  • PART C Point 3–relationship to Subject 1, and the relationship to Subject 2

II. Conclusion—summary of thesis and significance of your paper (“So, what?”)

When you have more points you want to make, add them to the body of your compare and contrast paper.  If you have 3 subjects, you can add the third subject to each point.

Both of these outlines help you structure a compare and contrast paper.  Select the one that makes sense to you.  If you can’t decide, outline your content both ways and see which one looks more logical.  Organize your academic essay or paper so that it is easy for your reader to follow.


Step 5: Write Your Compare and Contrast Essay or Paper

The more planning and preparation you do, the easier it is to write your paper.  In this writing process phase, take the content in your outline and put it into writing.

Write all the parts of your paper, and engaging introduction, a well-developed body, and a memorable conclusion.  Make sure you include in-text citations.  And end with a meaningful statement showing your reader the significance of your essay or paper. 

When you finish your paper, revise it.   For tips on revising your writing, check out the post, http://Academic Revising 101: The Essential Essay Revision Checklist” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/academic-revising-101-the-essential-essay-revision-checklist/.


Do you really need to follow this 5-step process?

Do you have to follow every step in this process?  Do you have to write an outline? No.  But these 5 steps will help you write an in-depth compare and contrast essay, paper, or any other comparison project.  An exceptional essay or paper that shows a high level of analysis that stands out to your professor.

The critical thinking your compare and contrast essay or paper demonstrates is what makes your writing outstanding. Grammar, writing mechanics, and writing style are important, but your paper is fluff unless you show a deep understanding of your topic.  Follow this 5-step process so that you can prepare, plan and write a first-rate compare and contrast essay!

Are you stuck thinking of ideas to write about?  Download a copy of Nail Your Research Paper Topic!