What makes a compare-contrast essay successful?
This is the second of three chapters about Compare and Contrast Essays. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Review the basic purpose of compare and contrast essays
– Introduce six steps for writing effective essays that compare and contrast two concepts, events or ideas
– Provide example structures and useful language
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Having focussed more generally in Chapter 1 on the compare and contrast essay type and its possible question formats, this second chapter on the subject next explores six steps for creating successful essays that investigate the similarities and differences between two concepts, events or ideas. Follow these six steps carefully, and your compare and contrast essays should soon be rewarding you with higher grades.
Step 1: Understand the Question
The first step to writing a successful compare and contrast essay is to make sure you understand the essay question. While students may occasionally be required to create the question for themselves, most of the time they will be provided with an essay question by their tutor or course handbook. Because some questions will focus on either comparing or contrasting instead of doing both, the following language structures have been included to help you recognise which question type you have:
While there are many possible essay questions that you may encounter, for the remainder of this academic reader we’ll be focusing on the following example question:
Clearly, this example question asks the writer to not only compare and contrast but to also focus on specific features, which in this case are the ‘content’ and ‘student learning experience’ of face-to-face and undergraduate degrees.
Step 2: Plan and Research
Once you have your essay question, the next step will likely be to think of as many similarities and differences as possible between the two items being compared and contrasted. For our example essay about online and face-to-face degrees, such a brainstorm might look something like the following:
Once you’ve created a list such as the above, it’s important that you next look for source-based evidence that supports these main ideas. Don’t forget to make sure that when finding academic sources that the research you use is appropriate and relevant and that you are selective of which sources and main ideas to include.
Step 3: Consider Your Overall Structure
The third step to crafting an effective compare and contrast essay is to then think carefully about the overall structure. This means selecting which main ideas you’re going to include in your essay and then deciding whether you’re going to arrange those ideas into a block or point-by-point structure. Block structures are generally considered to be more appropriate for shorter compare and contrast essays or for those in which the writer is comparing and contrasting the particular features of a concept, object or idea – such as ‘course content’ or ‘student learning experience’. As is shown below, this structure is when each item is discussed separately in blocks:
On the other hand, the point-by-point structure (also known as the ‘alternating method’) is useful when the writer has identified similarities and differences between the two items under investigation and wishes to discuss them one at a time. Such a structure as the example provided below may make the particular subjects being compared and contrasted clearer for the reader:
Step 4: Include Essay Elements
Another way of guaranteeing the successful creation of a compare and contrast essay is to make sure that you include many of the following elements:
“The demand for online education began in the 1990s with the introduction of the internet.”
“Since 1994 specifically, the market for online tertiary programmes has grown substantially, perhaps most notably between 2009 and 2019 when there was a reported 200% increase in enrolment in online degrees in the United States alone (Adams, 2019).”
“This paper therefore conducts a comparison of these two degree types, ultimately determining that while the knowledge gain for both degrees is equitable, the skills developed and required to achieve the qualification may be different.”
“Generally, while the learning outcomes of an online and F2F certification are much the same, how these qualifications are perceived may differ among employers.”
“In many cases, the graduating certificate therefore provides zero distinction between the two degrees (HEW, 2012), yet there has historically been a perceived belief reported among hiring panels that online degrees are of less value (Brakes, 2006).”
“To conclude, while it would seem that online and F2F degrees are comparable in both the content that is studied and the overall value of the degree, the learning experience of the students is somewhat dissimilar.”
“An online student may have to be more motivated and quickly develop a sturdier set of study skills than their campus counterpart, although the common requirement of writing essays and sitting examinations means that the same knowledge and skills for both degrees should be measured.”
“One worthwhile question to ask might be whether online degrees are only viable for certain disciplines and what this means for the future of online and F2F education.”
Step 5: Include Appropriate Language
There are particular language structures that students should also try to include in their essay when comparing and contrasting. While cohesive devices and transition markers such as ‘first’ or ‘however’ might be useful in any essay, the following language is particularly relevant to compare and contrast essay types:
Many of these language structures are highlighted for you in the example compare and contrast essay in Chapter 3.
Step 6: Edit and Proofread
Finally, and as with all essays, a good writer should always look carefully during the editing and proofreading stages for any elements that can be improved. This means paying careful attention to subject-specific vocabulary, academic and unacademic language, spelling mistakes, grammar errors and problems with sentence structure. For the more content-based details such as main ideas and supporting ideas, a successful writer should not be afraid of deleting or rewriting large sections of text in an attempt to improve that text – and you shouldn’t be too.
Having now discussed the six most important steps for creating effective compare and contrast essays, continue on to Chapter 3 if you wish to read our example. Don’t forget also to complete the Chapter 2 activities to check your understanding.
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