How to Write a Comparative Essay

A comparative essay analyzes the similarities and differences between two topics. Mastering this essay format is key to academic and professional writing. By learning how to do a comparative analysis effectively, you can express insightful points and create smoothly flowing content.

Follow these steps when writing a high-scoring comparative essay

Choose a Topic and Comparison Items

Select a broad topic first then choose two specific items within that topic to compare. For example you may analyze two novels, two political theories, or two countries. Make sure your comparison items have enough depth and complexity to sustain an entire essay.

To yield rich discussion, opt for two items that have key similarities but also major differences. Picking two very similar or dissimilar things won’t allow for nuanced analysis. You may compare items like:

  • Fiction and non-fiction books
  • Online and traditional education
  • Capitalism vs. socialism
  • Classical and modern art styles

Read and Annotate Source Material

Conduct research to find reliable source material about the two topics you selected. This may include scholarly articles, books, studies, or other authoritative references.

As you read the source texts, highlight and take notes on any relevant facts, supporting details, key ideas, statistics, examples, and quotes that may support your analysis. Annotating as you research will make it easier to reference the source material when writing

Make a List of Points to Compare

Compile a master list of the similarities and differences you want to analyze between the two topics. This helps organize your thoughts before writing and provides a roadmap for your essay.

For example, comparing online and traditional education you may list points such as:


  • Have instructors
  • Assign coursework
  • Issue grades and degrees


  • Learning formats (in-person vs. distance)
  • Social dynamics
  • Cost models

Continue brainstorming and adding to this list while researching and writing.

Create an Outline

Outline the structure of your essay based on your list of comparative points. This provides clarity on how you’ll examine the topics in a logical flow.

Your outline may include:

  • Introduction
  • Similarities
    • Point 1
    • Point 2
  • Differences
    • Point 1
    • Point 2
  • Conclusion

Having an outline gives your essay direction and cohesion. You can always adjust it as needed when drafting your content.

Pick a Structure Approach

There are two main structures to organize a comparative analysis:

Point-by-Point Method:
Compares each similarity or difference one at a time. For example, you would compare the cost of online and traditional education first, followed by the social experience, etc.

Subject-by-Subject Method:
Fully discusses the first item then moves on to thoroughly explain the second item. For example, you would describe online education first before transitioning to traditional education next.

Choose the structure that allows for the clearest explanation of the topics and comparison points you want to analyze.

Your introduction should:

  • Provide background on the essay topics
  • State the purpose and importance of comparing them
  • Present your thesis statement

Your thesis establishes the focus of the essay. For example: “Although online and traditional education formats share similarities in curriculum and instruction, their most pronounced differences lie in social dynamics and cost models, making each format better suited to different audiences.”

This gives readers insight into the scope of your comparison.

Write the Body

The body of your essay will delve into the similarities and differences you outlined. Use your structure approach to examine each point of comparison one-by-one or cover the first topic completely before moving to the next one.

For each similarity or difference, provide well-researched details, examples, quotes, statistics, and explanations that support it. Smoothly transition between ideas using phrases like “similarly,” “on the other hand,” “in contrast,” etc.

Aim for an objective tone that analyzes the merits of each topic without bias. Address any complexities, nuances, and gray areas when comparing the items.

Wrap up your essay by summarizing the key similarities and differences covered and their significance. What insights have you provided through this comparative analysis? What new perspective does it offer readers on the topic? Conclude by reflecting on the broader meaning, importance, or impact of the comparison.

Following this process will help you organize an effective comparative essay. Conduct detailed research, choose a logical structure, and fully develop your comparisons. Use transitions and maintain an objective tone throughout. With practice, you can become skilled at showcasing insightful analysis through this useful writing style.

how to write a comparative essay

Make sure you know the basis for comparison

The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.

  • Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
  • Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.

Develop a list of similarities and differences

Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them. For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity. Your list is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.

How to Write a Comparative Essay | 3 Easy Steps

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