Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
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It is not long America. Season 3 of Downton Abbey will be on PBS Sunday starting January 6. It is time to start getting into the ritual of saving your Sunday nights to watch a Downton episode on DVD, with wine/chocolates, or a cuppa with biscuits or tea treats. Amazon actually has a streaming service so you can download the episodes and watch instantly which is great if you don’t have iTunes. Check out the links below.
Last night’s episode, S3E5 of Downton Abbey was powerful and I strongly advise those of you outside of the UK who are not able to watch the new episodes to stay away from Social Media to avoid seeing any of the major spoilers, but there was enough drama going on in the kitchen to keep me on my toes.
What beginner or non-cooks don’t realize is that not all dishes turn out perfectly. Some disasters make it to the dining room, like the salted raspberry meringue, but for the most part an experienced cook will find ways to divert a crisis. The chicken which landed on the floor was dusted off and sent on its way, the shoddy ingredients for the test wedding cake discovered before anyone actually had to eat it. I am a big fan of testing while I cook! I just lived through “Substitution Saturday” breakfast preparations as weekend guests slept downstairs, when I discovered I was out of applesauce (made puree of canned pears), out of milk (had powdered skim milk), low on eggs (but had frozen egg whites in the freezer). You learn to be quick on your feet, even at 6 am.
This week on Downton we had two kitchen disasters. I was suppose it was about time that another dish ended up on the floor. This time it was kidney soufflé, which was already burnt so I am not sure it was a great loss. I love the taste, but not generally fond of the smell of offals as they are cooking, memories of when my mother used to cook liver.
The other crisis was the hollandaise sauce which had curdled. Yes that does happen if it is kept heated too high. This is an easy fix, but it seemed like a magical cure just at the right time. Well, actually when it happens to you it does seem like a magic cure to save the day.
This not how your souffle should look (photo ITV)
There are many ways to soufflé, so you might want to be inspired to make one, but not necessarily this recipe. The famous French Chef Auguste Escoffier listed 70 recipes in one cookbook alone. My favorite is chocolate soufflé, which is great for those special romantic occasions.
- 3 tbsp. oil
- 3 tbsp. whole wheat flour
- 1 cup heated stock
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp. oregano
- 5 eggs separated
- 1 cup kidney, cooked, ground
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, ground
- Heat oil in a saucepan and whisk in the flour. Gradually add stock and cook over low heat, stirring until smooth and thickened. Add salt, yeast and oregano. Remove from heat and cool.
- Blend in beaten egg yolks, kidney and sunflower seeds.
- Fold in egg whites which have been stiffly beaten.
- Turn mixture into an oiled casserole or oiled individual custard cups.
- Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes.
Serve immediately or your soufflé willl deflate.
Five Mother Sauces
Sauces are what make French cuisine so distinctive. Hundreds of sauces were developed over hundreds of years. Auguste Escoffier, the famous Edwardian chef was key to bringing French cuisine to the upper classes to Downton and other grand houses in that era. He is credited for narrowing the list to five mother sauces. From these five, many variations, or daughter sauces can be made.
- Béchamel is milk based, thickened with a white roux.
- Espagnole is a brown veal stock sauce.
- Velouté is a white stock based on stock, thickened with a roux or a liaison.
- Hollandaise, an emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon or vinegar.
Escoffier Hollandaise Sauce
Kitchen Disaster: curdled Hollandaise (photo ITV)
Every cook should be able to make classic French Mother sauces, and hollandaise is one of the great ones, perfect for asparagus, fish and American favourite Eggs Benedict.
Escoffier’s hollandaise sauce set the standard to follow. There is some disagreement between using lemon juice or vinegar in the sauce but I always defer to the Master, so vinegar it is.
Makes 1 cup
- ½ fl oz white vinegar
- ½ fl oz water
- 2 egg yolks
- 12 oz clarified butter*
- Lemon juice to taste
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- Place yolks, water and vinegar in a metal bowl, whisking until incorporated.
- Place the bowl on a pot of simmering water, and quickly whisk until yolks are lighter in color and a ribbon consistency, then remove from heat.
- Heat clarified butter to 125F.
- Slowly add butter to yolks, whisking constantly. Add a few drops of lemon juice to thin the sauce if you need to. Season to taste with salt, cayenne and lemon juice.
- hold at 125F for 1.5 hours maximum.
*How to make clarified butter.
Melt butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Skim the foam from the top, and slowly pour into a container, discarding the milky solids in the bottom of pan.
Keep the Sauce Warm, Not Hot: As I mentioned before, if hollandaise is kept too warm, it will thin out or curdle. The best way to keep it warm is by putting over a pan of lukewarm water, very It can be held perfectly.
If the sauce is too Thick: beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons of hot water, vegetable cooking liquid, stock, milk, or cream.
If the Sauce Refuses to Thicken: if you have beaten in your butter too quickly, and the sauce refuses to thicken, rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water. Put in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of the sauce. Whisk for a moment until the sauce creams and thickens. Then whisk in the rest of the sauce half a tablespoon at a time, beating until each addition has thickened in the sauce before adding the next. Your patience will be rewarded.
The Downton Cure when the Sauce has Broken or “Curdled: if a finished sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often bring it back.
If that fails, whisk another egg in a separate heated bowl, and then slowly whisk in the curdled sauce.
Leftover Hollandaise: you can keep leftover hollandaise for a day or two refrigerated but freezes great. You can add it to other sauces as well to enhance flavour. To reheat, whisk a couple of tablespoons over very low heat or over another pot of simmering water, then gradually whisk in the remaining sauce.
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