Full Guide: How to Start a Compare and Contrast Essay


Writing compare and contrast essays is one of the most popular types of assignments. It shows critical thinking abilities and allows to prove that students actually have in-depth knowledge of the subject. Practically, it means that writing this type of an essay can be tricky, especially if the topic is complicated.

What is a compare and contrast essay? The purpose of the essay is to define similarities and differences between two subjects. It means you have to know each of them separately well enough to find analogies and see the bigger picture.

It’s all about a start

Writing a compare and contrast essay is a complex process. There are many stages: researching, planning, outlining, writing, proofreading, rewriting, editing. However, don’t get scared at once. Many of those can be simplified tremendously if you know how to begin the process.

A note: the tips, described here, might require investing some amount of time. If you have an absolutely urgent task, our advice would be to contact professional dedicated writers. Just write to them with a request to ‘write my essay cheap’ – should take less than a minute. If you want to write a good text, you’ll have to put some time in it so really consider your possibilities beforehand.

Step #1 – Understand and brainstorm a topic

The most frequent and least favorite critique a student can get is to receive a note that the essay was vague or didn’t prove the point. No matter how great your writing skills are or how in-depth you’ve researched, without an understanding of a topic, it’ll all be screwed up.

  • Read the topic a few times. Concentrate on the verbs: what’s it that you have to do?
  • What is the general topic that unites both subjects? They are never random: you can always find the hidden message. For example, if you are asked to compare Tesla and Edison, you will find that they actually had the entire war about the types of currents. That’s a good start, right?
  • Don’t pick good or bad guys. Be impartial – no matter what your actual opinion is.

Step #2 – Find and group differences and similarities

Make a table with two columns where you’ll group the main comparison points. The best strategy is to pick criteria that will be used during the evaluation. Here’s an example of such a comparison, done from an example of a compare and contrast essay.

Differences between subjects

Characteristics Edison Tesla
Legacy Famous for inventing the light-bulb, registered a few thousands of patents Known for creating a system of electricity and laying grounds for modern communication methods
Origins American Serbian-American
Connections Former Tesla’s boss Former Edison’s employee
War of Currents
What did they fight for? Direct-current (DC) electric power Alternating-current (AC) system
Mental abilities Mental sketches – Edison could burst out a lot of potentially groundbreaking ideas Eidetic memory that allowed him to keep images in mind for a long period of time, including 3D
The number of patents More than 1096 Less than 300


Well, you understood the main point. You can also do a Venn diagram, a more complicated way of comparing subjects – for now, we’ll focus on a simpler one (but no less effective). The same table can be done for a similarities’ research. When you already know the drill, let’s check out a short example – to make analysis more clear and concrete.

Characteristics Edison Tesla
The field Both worked on currents and electricity, both are well-respected in their areas.
Innovations Both were forward-thinkers who had ideas that were way above the scientific thought of their generation.
Impact Their ideas are widely used by modern scientists and laid grounds for many essential discoveries, including computers.


Step #3 – Answer five fundamental questions

It includes: Who? What? When? Where? and How?. Speaking about our example, these questions could be formed in  the following way:

  • Who are these scientists?
  • What are they famous for? What did they do that’s exceptional, both in professional and personal spheres?
  • When did they live? When were the main discoveries made? (This refers not only to the periods of history but also to particular events – such as the War of Currents).
  • Where? Where were both of them born? Where did they study and live for the most significant periods of their life?
  • How did they arrive at making such a groundbreaking achievement? How do we know them now?

Step #4 – Research to answer the questions

All experienced paper writers know that even if you already have a deep understanding of the subject, it never hurts to hit the books and get curious about the subjects you have to compare. When students think that they already have what it takes to write a good essay and ignore the research part, it usually ends up being vague and non-informative.

What sources to use?

  • Hit your university library. This way, you can find your professor’s work and reference it, so it will attach more value to your research and conclusions. Be sure to select the right citation style. You can choose from three versions – Chicago style, Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA). Chicago style is used for technical subjects, MLA – for arts and humanities, APA – for work that focuses on a particular author. To avoid confusion, ask your professor to define citation requirements specifically.
  • Go to Google Scholar. Picking the most valuable information from thousands of sources worldwide can be tricky. So, we got you some winning tips:
    1. take a look at the number of citations to determine the value of work (the more, the better);
    2. explore both the original material and its citations;
    3. write down the citation as soon as you added the information – don’t leave it for the editing stage;
    4. use incognito search to get more results. Because Google algorithm prefers to show the links you’ve already used, it’s hard to find new information. With incognito mode, your user behavior doesn’t influence the search results and you see fresh materials.
    5. create libraries with useful sources in case you need them later
Just click on a star to save the source in case you need it for further studies

Step #5 – Write a comprehensive outline

After you are done with brainstorming and researching, it’s time to put your thoughts on paper. However, don’t rush to write right away. It’s really tempting to start writing an essay as soon as possible, and it even might seem faster that way but actually, it’s not the case.

In the outline, you’ll describe the main point and divide the main points from the secondary ones. That guarantees the order for your writing and helps you understand what you were aiming for even after a considerable amount of time.

  • Define the main points and put them at the core of your outline. All the other points should depend on those most significant ones.
  • Put links to the sources you’ve used so you can come back to them whenever you want.
  • Keep it detailed. Sure, the word ‘outline’ presumes that it’s brief and to the point but you want to find a fine line here. The best way is to write 2-3 sentences and add links to research sources. This way, you’ll have the main ideas laid out and the details can be added later, from those sources.


Writing a compare and contrast essay is all about beginning the process the right way. If you have considered different perspectives on the same topic, brainstormed the ideas for comparison and did your research, writing should be easy and fun. Even if you have the temptation to start right away to save the time, resist it and accomplish all crucial first stages – they always pay off at the end.

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