How to Write an Effective Compare and Contrast Paper

While you may believe that a compare and contrast paper is the easiest type to write by simply comparing things that are alike and things that are different, there’s more to it than that. The whole point of the exercise is to have you explain why the similarities and differences matter. Your ultimate goal is to create meaningful connections to a larger issue, using your comparisons or contrasts as a means to argue a case. Your professors may ask you to find the differences or similarities between two things, or they may ask for the differences and similarities. Once your subject has been defined, create your thesis statement containing the idea or claim that unites the discussion and includes the argument that you are making in support of the claim.

Choose Your Organizational Style

You can arrange your ideas in a compare and contrast paper using either the alternating or tandem style. There is no rule about selecting one method over another, but for papers over five or six pages you should probably use the alternating style. This will help the reader follow the pertinent information about each side of your argument more easily. The tandem pattern is suitable for shorter papers.

The Alternating Style

This style is also known as the point-by-point style and is usually written in five or more paragraphs. Let’s suppose you are writing a paper comparing the differences between attending a major university versus a local community college. Start with your opening paragraph, which will include your thesis. Then write a paragraph about the first difference between the university and the community college in the same sentence. For example, a sizable university may offer a prestigious course study while a community college may provide a smaller class size and more affordable tuition. Discuss the point, comparing backwards and forwards between the university and the community college in each sentence. The following paragraph will address the next difference or similarity. Use as many paragraphs as you need to discuss each point.

The Tandem Style

The tandem style of organization, also known as the block style, is often written in four paragraphs. To demonstrate, let’s use our example of comparing attending a major university versus a local community college. When using the tandem style, start with your opening paragraph, which again must include your thesis. Then, write about attending the university in the second paragraph and enrolling in the community college in the third. Any point you make in the paragraph about the university you must also make in the paragraph about the community college and in the same order. For example, you may discuss the large class size of a major university in one paragraph followed by a paragraph discussing the smaller class sizes of a community college. Finish with your concluding paragraph, which generally reaffirms your thesis in new words and demonstrates how you’ve proven it.

Support your analysis by providing textual support for each point you address. You can either use direct quotes from text or you can paraphrase, but you must remember to cite each source correctly. A compare and contrast paper often requires that you use the MLA formatting style. However, make sure you confirm which citation style your professor requires. If you aren’t up to speed on the latest MLA formatting guidelines, there is software available for you to apply the most current guidelines with just a couple of clicks of your mouse, helping you to avoid any deduction in points for formatting issues.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ or write to:
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Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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