To write a compare/contrast essay, you’ll need to make NEW connections and/or express NEW differences between two things. The key word here…is NEW!
- Choose 2 things that could go in the same category, but are also quite different. Good choices might be:
- Basketball & Football (both sports)
- Horses & Cats (both animals, but different in many ways)
- Writing & Singing (both art forms, but different in many ways)
- Gather your ideas by writing down characteristics of each thing. Note the differences and similarities between them.
- Ask yourself these important questions before you begin writing your draft:
Does my instructor want me to compare AND contrast, or am I only being asked to do one of those things?
Some instructors prefer that you only write about the differences between two things, while others want you to focus on explaining the similarities as well. Either way, you'll need to make sure that your thesis statement reflects your instructor's expectations. For example, if I wanted to write about Social Networking sites, I'd need to write different thesis statements depending on my compare/contrast assignment.
Sample thesis statement for contrast paper: In terms of social networking sites, Facebook focuses on presenting your daily life to others, whereas MySpace allows you to focus more on demonstrating your personal style.
Sample thesis statement for compare/contrast paper: While both Facebook and MySpace allow you to meet other users who have similar interests, only MySpace allows you to demonstrate your personal style.
Are these 2 things similar and/or different, in at least one meaningful way?
If you want to write a successful compare/contrast essay, you'll need to avoid writing about really obvious differences and similarities. For example:
- We all know that horses are larger than cats.
- We also know that basketball teams contain less players than football teams.
Tell us something we don't know (or might not notice)!
It would be better to write about how sensitive both horses and cats are to human needs and emotions. You could also suggest that though both basketball and football require a lot of teamwork, basketball players are expected to be a lot more versatile than football players.
You don't have to be a genius to write an interesting compare/contrast essay--you just have to look at ordinary things in a new way!
Do I know enough about my topic to write an effective compare/contrast essay?
Unless you're being asked to do some research as part of your compare/contrast project, make sure that you choose 2 things that you feel comfortable discussing, at length.
Your instructor may ask for multiple similarities and differences--make sure you're prepared to write a well-developed, meaningful essay on a topic that you know well before you get started!
Organizing Your Compare and Contrast Paper
There are two primary ways to organize your compare and contrast paper.
Chunking: placing all of the information for each individual subject in one place (chunk), and then using similarities as transitions.
Here’s a sample outline:
- Jane is distinct because…
- Jane is similar to Alice in these ways
- Alice is distinct because…
Piecing: giving pieces of the information for each individual subject in each paragraph—arranging the information by topic rather than by subject.
Here’s a sample outline:
- Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s appearances
- Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s backgrounds
- Differences and Similarities in Jane and Alice’s interests
We all compare ourselves to others in our social worlds, whether it is comparing our looks to those of celebrities we see in the media or our talents to those of our co-workers. In psychology, social comparison theory is one explanation for this tendency we have to make comparisons between ourselves and others.
Let's take a closer look at how social comparison theory works and how the comparison we make influence the views we may hold of ourselves.
Social Comparison Theory Background
Social comparison theory was first proposed in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger and suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others. People make all kinds of judgments about themselves, and one of the key ways that we do this is through social comparison, or analyzing the self in relation to others.
For example, imagine that a high school student has just signed up for band class to learn how to play the clarinet. As she evaluates her skills and progress, she will compare her performance to other students in the class. She might initially compare her abilities to the other members of the clarinet section, particularly noting those who are better than her as well as those who are worse. She may also compare her abilities to those of students who play other instruments as well.
Festinger believed that we engage in this comparison process as a way of establishing a benchmark by which we can make accurate evaluations of ourselves.
For example, a music student might compare herself to the star student of the class. If she finds that her abilities do not measure up to her peer's talents, she might be driven to achieve more and improve her abilities.
How Does the Social Comparison Process Work?
The social comparison process involves people coming to know themselves by evaluating their own attitudes, abilities, and beliefs in comparison with others.
In most cases, we try to compare ourselves to those in our peer group or with whom we are similar.
There are two kinds of social comparison:
- Upward social comparison: when we compare ourselves with those who we believe are better than us. These upward comparisons often focus on the desire to improve our current level of ability. We might compare ourselves to someone better off and look for ways that we can also achieve similar results.
- Downward social comparison: when we compare themselves to others who are worse off than ourselves. Such downward comparisons are often centered on making ourselves feel better about our abilities. We might not be great at something, but at least we are better off than someone else.
Examples of Social Comparison Theory in Action
According to Festinger, people rely on these comparisons with other people to accurately assess their own skills, abilities, beliefs, and attitudes. In cases where your comparisons are not effective, you might find yourself getting into situations that are too difficult or complex for your current skill levels.
For example, if you compare yourself to your friends and feel that you are pretty physically fit, you might sign up for a marathon believing that you have the ability to finish with no problem.
When race day arrives, you might find yourself surrounded by people who are much more athletic than you and realize that your initial assessment of your abilities was overly optimistic.
When we can, we may put these comparisons to the test in real-world settings.
For example, if you want to assess your skill as a basketball player, you might start by playing a game with your friends or practice shooting free throws. Once you have a good understanding of what you are capable of, you might then begin comparing your performance to other people that you know. You might immediately think of a friend who plays on his school's basketball team.
This is an example of upward social comparison.
In comparison to him, your performance is not nearly as skilled, but you might feel that you can eventually achieve similar skill with a little practice. In this case, upward social comparison may make you feel better about your skill and more motivated to improve upon it.
You might then compare your abilities to a friend who couldn't make a basket to save his life. In comparison, your performance is much better. This is an example of downward social comparison. In this case, observing your friend’s poor skills actually makes you feel even better about your own abilities.
As you can see, social comparison plays a role in the judgments that people make about themselves but also in the way that people behave. Some comparisons might make you feel inadequate and less likely to pursue a goal while others give you confidence and help boost your self-esteem. As you compare yourself to others, consider how both upward and downward social comparison might influence your self-beliefs, confidence, motivation, and attitude and watch out for negative feelings that might emerge as a result of this process.