Developing an Outline for a Compare and Contrast Essay

Learning Objectives:

  • Determine subjects worthy of comparison.
  • Develop points of comparison to support a thesis.
  • Develop point-by-point and subject-by-subject outlines.

LESSON
Compare and contrast essaysA written discussion of both the similarities and differences between people, objects, or ideas. This type of essay shows how things are alike in some ways (compare) as well as how they are different in other ways (contrast). are a common assignment in college. You may be asked to compareTo draw similarities between people, objects, or concepts. two authorsA person who wrote a text., two methods for ratifying Constitutional amendments, or two events. No matter what you compare, it is helpful to develop an outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. . In this lesson, you will learn how to identify subjectsThe people, places, things, or ideas being discussed or described. to compare, develop points of comparisonThe criteria by which subjects are compared and/or contrasted., and choose the best organizational strategyA plan for arranging the structure of an outline or essay. There are many different strategies, such as point-by-point, subject-by-subject, or order of events. for your outline.

Determining Subjects Worthy of Comparison

While it is theoretically possible to compare any two people, places, events, ideas, etc., it would not make sense to compare Mark Twain with a wind turbine. Worthy subjects should at least be part of a similar class of things and they should also have enough in common with each other that the comparison makes sense.

Example:

Developing Points of Comparison to Support a Thesis

Once you have determined the two subjects that you will compare, you will need to decide what criteriaThe standards or rules used to decide or judge something. you will use to compare the two. These are your points of comparison. Be sure that you can actually evaluateTo make a judgment about the quality of something. For example, you can evaluate an essay by examining the accuracy of the information or the strength of the arguments. each subject by the criteria that you choose.

You could begin this process of developing your points of comparison by using any one of a number of graphic organizersPictorial tools used to brainstorm and arrange ideas before writing, such as webbing diagrams, flow charts, story maps, and Venn diagrams. , such as a web diagramA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas and then draws lines to connect them into a type of "web." The objective is to see connections between events and characters.. Another way is to simply brainstormA prewriting technique where the author lists multiple ideas as he or she thinks of them, not considering one more than another until all ideas are captured. The objective is to create one great idea, or many ideas, on which to base a writing. everything you know or have learned about each subject individually. Then you can look for common points of comparison.

Here is an example that compares apples to oranges.

Apples

Oranges

  • Many colors, shades of red, green, and yellow
  • Johnny Appleseed
  • Smooth
  • Variety of flavors
  • Commonly eaten plain
  • Used in sweet and savory foods
  • Eaten raw or cooked
  • Prices vary by region/season/variety, as little as $0.88/lb and as much as $2/lb
  • Grown across the U.S. but in more moderate to cool climates like Washington, New York, Michigan, Minnesota
  • "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" - health
  • Usually orange, but variety of shades
  • Dimpled
  • Peels are not eaten
  • Sweet-sour, depending on the ripeness
  • Commonly eaten plain
  • Commonly used in salads or cooked in main dishes, like duck a l’orange
  • Prices vary by region/season/variety
  • Grown in warmer parts of the U.S. such as Florida and California
  • Vitamin C, minerals, fiber

Based on this initial brainstorming, the two fruits could be compared on any of the following:

With additional research and thought, more comparisons could be found. Keep in mind, you must always be certain that you are making parallelUsing the same pattern of words to describe ideas in order to create balance in a writing. Parallel structure can be at the word-, phrase-, clause-, sentence-, and even paragraph-level. comparisons. If you are describing the taste and color of apples, then make sure you are doing the same for oranges, rather than focusing on taste and texture.

Organizing a Compare and Contrast Essay

There are two major ways to organize a compare and contrast essay: point-by-pointAn organizational strategy for a comparison or compare and contrast essay. In this method, the writer lists the major points of comparison/contrast between subjects, and discusses them one at a time. A point-by-point comparison is useful for subjects that have many points of comparison because the reader can consider both subjects side-by-side. or subject-by-subjectAn organizational strategy for a comparison or compare and contrast essay. In this method, a single subject is discussed in detail, followed by a similar examination of the other subject. A subject-by-subject comparison is best used for less complex arguments that have fewer points, so that the reader can remember the points made about the first subject while learning about the second.. A point-by-point comparison is useful for complicated subjects that have many points of comparison because your reader can view both subjects side-by-side with each point of comparison. However, be sure to keep the essay flowing when using this method. Point-by-point comparisons tend to read like a ping pong match if you switch too quickly between points (ex. point A, point B, point A, point B). Make sure to use effective transitionsTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. to avoid this "back and forth" feeling. Conversely, a subject-by-subject comparison is better reserved for less complex subjects that have fewer points. This method is naturally more cohesive, but it can be light on content if you are not monitoring how much support you develop.

Point-by-point outline

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Hook
    2. Tone
    3. Background
    4. Thesis
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Point of comparison 1
      1. Subject A (Evidence)
      2. Subject B (Evidence)
      3. Analysis*
      4. Link to next paragraph
    2. Point of comparison 2
      1. Subject A (Evidence)
      2. Subject B (Evidence)
      3. Analysis*
      4. Link to next paragraph
    3. Point of comparison 3
      1. Subject A (Evidence)
      2. Subject B (Evidence)
      3. Analysis*
      4. Link to next paragraph
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Synthesis
    2. Final impression

*Analysis could go after each subject (evidence) in the paragraph, or come after both as shown above.

Here is an example of a point-by-point outline.

German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Hook: According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers and German shepherds have both been among the top three most popular dog breeds in the United States.
    2. Tone: Informal
    3. Background: Their popularity stems, in part, from their shared intelligence and ability to serve and keep company.
    4. Thesis: Despite sharing these characteristics, German shepherds and golden retrievers are very different breeds, and potential owners must understand these differences to ensure they choose the breed best suited to their homes.
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Point of comparison 1: Temperament
      1. Subject A: German Shepherds
        1. Intelligent
        2. Fast
        3. Keen sense of smell
        4. Loyal
        5. Aggressive; fearless
        6. Active
        7. Curious
        8. Over-protective if not socialized properly
        9. Territorial
        10. Do not care for strangers
        11. Defensive
        12. Work without being distracted
      2. Subject B: Golden Retrievers
        1. Intelligent
        2. Loyal
        3. Friendly
        4. Kind
        5. Calm
        6. Eager to please
        7. Patient
        8. Naturally sociable
        9. Willing to learn
        10. Patient with children
        11. Poor guard dogs
        12. Not aggressive to people or other animals
      3. Analysis: Families must be aware of a breed's disposition before bringing a dog into their home. Families who are unprepared to properly socialize a dog should think twice before adopting a German shepherd.
      4. Link to next paragraph: While temperament is one consideration, families should also consider how the two breeds differ physically.
    2. Point of comparison 2: Physical Characteristics
      1. Subject A: German Shepherds
        1. Fast
        2. Strong
        3. Keen sense of smell
        4. Generally tan with black back and snout; also black, white, sable, liver, and blue varieties
        5. Range from 50-90 pounds and 22 to 26 inches in height
        6. Need thirty minutes of exercise a day
        7. Not prone to ear infections
      2. Subject B: Golden Retrievers
        1. Athletic
        2. Agile
        3. Good swimmers
        4. Range from gold to cream in color
        5. Range from 60 to 75 pounds and 21-24 inches in height
        6. Need two or more hours of exercise a day
        7. Prone to ear infections
      3. Analysis: Both breeds are excellent choices for active people as they both enjoy going for hikes and runs, but golden retrievers are a better option for those interested in a dog that can accompany them on their marathon training runs.
      4. Link to next paragraph: In addition to temperament and physical characteristics, potential dog owners also need to consider the care each breed requires.
    3. Point of comparison 3: Care
      1. Subject A: German Shepherds
        1. Do not need ears cleaned often because they are not prone to ear infections
        2. Need regular bathing and brushing
      2. Subject B: Golden Retrievers
        1. Clean ears
        2. Need grooming once a week
      3. Analysis: Golden retrievers may not be the best choice for those with limited time and funds because their care will take significant time and money.
      4. Link to next paragraph: It may take some time and research, but eventually you will discover if either of these breeds would make a welcome addition to your family.
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Synthesis: With their different personalities and needs, German shepherds and golden retrievers are both great dogs that you should consider when you are looking to add a furry friend to your family.
    2. Final impression: Consider dog sitting or visiting both of these breeds in your local shelter to figure out if either of these breeds will be a good fit for your family.

The second way you could organize your outline is subject-by-subject, as in this approach:

Subject-by-subject outline

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Hook
    2. Tone
    3. Background
    4. Thesis
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Subject A
      1. Point of comparison 1 (Evidence)
      2. Point of comparison 2 (Evidence)
      3. Point of comparison 3 (Evidence)
      4. Analysis*
      5. Link to next paragraph
    2. Subject B
      1. Point of comparison 1 (Evidence)
      2. Point of comparison 2 (Evidence)
      3. Point of comparison 3 (Evidence)
      4. Analysis*
      5. Link to next paragraph
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Synthesis
    2. Final impression

*Analysis could go after each point of comparison (evidence) in the paragraph, or come after all three as shown above.

Here is an example of the same information about German shepherds and golden retrievers, reorganized to reflect subject-by-subject organization.

German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Hook: According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers and German shepherds have both been among the top three most popular dog breeds in the United States.
    2. Tone: Informal
    3. Background: Their popularity stems, in part, from their intelligence and ability to serve and keep company.
    4. Thesis: Despite sharing these characteristics, German shepherds and golden retrievers are very different breeds, and potential owners must understand these differences to ensure they choose the breed best suited to their homes.
  2. Body Paragraphs
    1. Subject A: German Shepherds
      1. Point of comparison 1: Temperament
        1. Intelligent
        2. Fast
        3. Keen sense of smell
        4. Loyal
        5. Aggressive; fearless
        6. Active
        7. Curious
        8. Over-protective if not socialized properly
        9. Territorial
        10. Do not care for strangers
        11. Defensive
        12. Work without being distracted
      2. Point of comparison 2: Physical characteristics
        1. Fast
        2. Strong
        3. Keen sense of smell
        4. Generally tan with black back and snout; also black, white, sable, liver, and blue varieties
        5. Range from 50-90 pounds and 22 to 26 inches in height
        6. Need thirty minutes of exercise a day
      3. Point of comparison 3: Care
        1. Do not need ears cleaned often because they are not prone to ear infections
        2. Need regular bathing and brushing
      4. Analysis: German shepherds are an excellent choice for people who have the ability to properly socialize their dogs. They are an excellent choice for people who do not have hours to spend playing and walking a dog or the money needed to care for an animal that requires frequent visits to the vet or groomer.
      5. Link to next paragraph: If your lifestyle is not well-suited to care for a German shepherd, it may be better suited to care for a golden retriever.
    2. Subject B: Golden Retrievers
      1. Point of comparison 1: Temperament
        1. Intelligent
        2. Loyal
        3. Friendly
        4. Kind
        5. Calm
        6. Eager to please
        7. Patient
        8. Naturally sociable
        9. Willing to learn
        10. Patient with children
        11. Poor guard dogs
        12. Not aggressive to people or other animals
      2. Point of comparison 2: Physical Characteristics
        1. Athletic
        2. Agile
        3. Good swimmers
        4. Range from gold to cream in color
        5. Range from 60 to 75 pounds and 21-24 inches in height
        6. Need two or more hours of exercise a day
        7. Prone to ear infections
      3. Point of comparison 3: Care
        1. Need grooming once a week
        2. Clean ears
      4. Analysis: In many ways, golden retrievers take more care than a German shepherd; however, that should not be your only criteria because their friendliness is infectious and may be best for your family and neighborhood.
      5. Link to next paragraph: It may take some time and research, but eventually you will discover if either of these breeds would make a welcome addition to your family.
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Synthesis: With their different personalities and needs, German shepherds and golden retrievers are both great dogs that you should consider when you are looking to add a furry friend to your family.
    2. Final impression: Consider dog sitting or visiting both of these breeds in your local shelter to figure out if either of these breeds will be a good fit for your family.

Notice how information is grouped by individual subject, rather than points of comparison, as in the previous outline. Your introduction, thesis, and conclusion may stay the same, but not always.

Note that it is particularly important with a subject-by-subject outline to make sure that you are comparing parallel points. It is very easy to lose track of what you discussed in the first subject when you are in the middle of discussing the second.

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