Comparative Essays

Writing a comparison usually requires that you assess the similarities and differences between two or more theories, procedures, or processes. You explain to your reader what insights can be gained from the comparison, or judge whether one thing is better than another according to established criteria.

How to Write a Comparative Essay

1. Establish a basis of comparison 

A basis of comparison represents the main idea, category, or theme you will investigate. You will have to do some preliminary reading, likely using your course materials, to get an idea of what kind of criteria you will use to assess whatever you are comparing. A basis of comparison must apply to all items you are comparing, but the details will be different. 

For example, if you are asked to “compare neoclassical architecture and gothic architecture,” you could compare the influence of social context on the two styles.  

2. Gather the details of whatever you are comparing 

Once you have decided what theme or idea you are investigating, you will need to gather details of whatever you are comparing, especially in terms of similarities and differences. Doing so allows you to see which criteria you should use in your comparison, if not specified by your professor or instructor. 

  • Neoclassical Architecture
    • Appeal to Greek perfection
    • Columns
    • Formulaic and mathematical
    • etc.
  • Gothic Architecture
    • Appeal to emotion
    • Towers and spires
    • Wild and rustic
    • etc.
  • Similarities
    • Both found in...
      • Churches
      • Civic buildings
      • Palaces

Based on this information, you could focus on how ornamentation and design principles reveal prevailing intellectual thought about architecture in the respective eras and societies.

3. Develop a thesis statement 

After brainstorming, try to develop a thesis statement that identifies the results of your comparison. Here is an example of a fairly common thesis statement structure: 

e.g., Although neoclassical architecture and gothic architecture have [similar characteristics A and B], they reveal profound differences in their interpretation of [C, D, and E]. 

4. Organize your comparison  

You have a choice of two basic methods for organizing a comparative essay: the point-by-point method or the block method.  

The point-by-point method examines one aspect of comparison in each paragraph and usually alternates back and forth between the two objects, texts, or ideas being compared. This method allows you to emphasize points of similarity and of difference as you proceed. 

In the block method, however, you say everything you need to say about one thing, then do the same thing with the other. This method works best if you want readers to understand and agree with the advantages of something you are proposing, such as introducing a new process or theory by showing how it compares to something more traditional.

Sample Outlines for Comparative Essays on Neoclassical and Gothic Architecture 

Building a Point-by-Point Essay

Using the point-by-point method in a comparative essay allows you to draw direct comparisons and produce a more tightly integrated essay.

1. Introduction

  • Introductory material
  • Thesis: Although neoclassical and gothic architecture are both western European forms that are exemplified in civic buildings and churches, they nonetheless reveal through different structural design and ornamentation, the different intellectual principles of the two societies that created them.

2. Body Sections/Paragraphs

  1. Criterion: Ornamentation
    • Ornamentation in Text 1
    • Ornamentation in Text 2
  2. Criterion: Major appeal
    • Major appeal in Text 1
    • Major appeal in Text 2
  3. Criterion: Style
    • Style in Text 1
    • Style in Text 2

3. Conclusion

  • Summary
  • Why this comparison is important?
  • What does this comparison tell readers?

Building a Block Method Essay

Using the block method in a comparative essay can help ensure that the ideas in the second block build upon or extend ideas presented in the first block. It works well if you have three or more major areas of comparison instead of two (for example, if you added in a third or fourth style of architecture, the block method would be easier to organize).

1. Introduction

  • Introductory material
  • Thesis: The neoclassical style of architecture was a conscious rejection of the gothic style that had dominated in France at the end of the middle ages; it represented a desire to return to the classical ideals of Greece and Rome.

2. Body Sections/Paragraphs

  1. Text 1
    • History and development
  2. Text 2
    • Change from earlier form
    • Social context of new form
  3. Synthesis and analysis
    • What does the comparison reveal about architectural development?

3. Conclusion

  • Summary
  • Why is this comparison important?
  • What does this comparison tell readers?