We've all been there. You've been assigned an essay of your choosing. Where do you even begin?
How about with a compare and contrast essay?
Compare and contrast is a great tactic to use when you're stuck searching for an essay topic. These essays follow a relatively easy pattern, and, fortunately, there is no shortage of ideas for subjects to compare and contrast.
Once you've decided to write a compare and contrast essay, you'll need some ideas. Like we mentioned above, there are so many topics available that you can easily analyze in this type of essay format.
Of course, the flip side of this is that there are so many options...how do you know what to pick?
Our advice: Start by choosing an overarching topic that fits within your personal interests (think art, history, music, science, etc.).
Once you've identified the topic you want to cover, you can begin making a list of subjects under that topic you can potentially write about.
Here's a list of topics and subjects under each topic to help get your brainstorming kickstarted.
Periods of history (Dark Ages vs. Middle Ages, before vs. after the Civil War)
World governments (Swiss vs. U.S. governments, Iraqi vs. Chinese governments)
Types of government (democracy vs. socialism, dictatorship vs. oligarchy)
Wars (World War I vs. World War II, Vietnam vs. Korean War)
Presidents (Trump vs. Nixon, Kennedy vs. Clinton)
Types of leaders (Presidents vs. dictators, senators vs. members of congress)
Specific leaders (Hitler vs. Stalin, Napoleon vs. Charlemagne)
Tragedies (9/11 vs. D-Day, Hiroshima vs. Chernobyl)
Characters in a play (Willy Loman vs. Evan Hansen, Lady Macbeth vs. Lady MacDuff)
Characters in a novel (Jay Gatsby vs. Tom Buchanan, Boo Ridley vs. Scout)
Books (1984 vs. The Handmaid's Tale, Lord of the Rings vs. Harry Potter)
Plays (Macbeth vs. Hamlet, Death of a Salesman vs. Fences)
Authors (J.K. Rowling vs. J. R. Tolkien, Jeannette Walls vs. Tara Westover)
Poets (Keats vs. Wordsworth, Dickinson vs. Akhmatova)
Speeches (Gettysburg Address vs. I Have a Dream, Duties of American Citizenship vs. JFK's Inauguration Address)
Languages (British vs. American English, France French vs. Canadian French)
Periods of art (Renaissance vs. Impressionist, Baroque vs. Romanticism)
Musical genres (Hip-hop vs. Jazz, Country vs. Bluegrass)
Artists (Picasso vs. Dali, Cassatt vs. O'Keefe)
Singers (Sinatra vs. Lady Gaga, The Beatles vs. The Backstreet Boys)
Methods of art (murals vs. statues, watercolor vs. pastels)
Religions (Islam vs. Christianity, Hindu vs. Judaism)
Religious leaders (Pope Francis vs. Dalai Lama, Archibishop Tutu vs. Billy Graham)
Philosophers (Socrates vs. Plato, Locke vs. Rousseau)
Religious ideas (reincarnation vs. resurrection, heaven vs. purgatory)
Texts (Bible vs. Quran, Talmud vs. Tipitaka)
Energy (solar vs. wind, nuclear vs. chemical)
Animals (reptiles vs. amphibians, polar bears vs. black bears)
Planets (Earth vs. Mars, Jupiter vs. Saturn)
Innovators (Elon Musk vs. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates vs. Stephen Hawking)
Disasters (tsunamis vs. hurricanes, earthquakes vs. tornados)
Television Shows (Friends vs. New Girl, Simpsons vs. Family Guy)
Games (board games vs. online, violent vs. non-violent)
Fashion (1970s vs. 1990s, 1960s vs. 1980s)
Movies (Rocky vs. Creed, The Green Mile vs. Shawshank Redemption)
Comedians (Dave Chapelle vs. Eddie Murphy, Ellen DeGeneres vs. Sarah Silverman)
Actors (Tom Hanks vs. Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep vs. Octavia Spencer)
Online education vs. on-campus education
Homeschooling vs. traditional education
Online vs. face-to-face communication
Male vs. female genders
Nature vs. nurture
Creation vs. evolution
Each of these lists could go on and on. You can also narrow many of these ideas down even further to be more specific.
Take homeschooling vs. traditional education, for example. You could narrow the focus of your essay to cover the career paths of students who come from a homeschooling background vs. those who come from traditional education.
Still need help brainstorming? Get even more ideas by looking at examples of compare and contrast essays. As a bonus, this step will also give you a better idea of how this type of essay should be written.
There are numerous essay examples to show how others have crafted compare and contrast essays. A step-by-step breakdown of an essay is provided on some sites. (Check out EAP Foundation's site to get you started.) Other sites offer a variety of compare and contrast essay examples, such as this academic help site.
Just remember to keep your topic broad enough that you can write an entire essay on the topic that includes a full argument.
After choosing the ideal topic for you, there are a few simple steps to help you get started in writing your essay.
The whole point of a compare and contrast essay is to cover the similarities and differences of two ideas. A Venn diagram is an easy way to help you begin identifying what those are.
What overlaps in your two ideas? What's completely different? What are some linking ideas that you can use to tie these two ideas together?
Plot these thoughts out to see where your essay is heading.
Next, take your list of similarities and differences you've identified and place them in an outline. A basic outline is: introduction, compare, contrast, conclusion. Where do your Venn diagram thoughts belong?
Most students skip over this step, but an outline is actually a crucial part of the writing process. Not only does it help you to organize your thoughts, but it actually will save you time in the writing and editing process later on.
So do yourself a favor: create an outline.
Have a list ready of compare and contrast words to use when you start your writing.
Common compare words include: like, as well as, similar to, similarly, and in common. Contrast words include: although, yet, contrary to, in contrast, and however. It's important to vary your words, so pepper a variety of these words throughout the essay.
Compare and contrast essays are a great option when you have to come up with your own writing topic. With limitless topic choices and a relatively simple format, these essays can be a great way to show off your writing skills and to celebrate your interests in a variety of diverse topics.