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Comparative Essay Ideas

by Martha Mendenhall, Demand Media

    Writing a successful comparative essay involves understanding two themes -- topics or works of literature -- well enough to describe how they are alike and how they are different. Comparison-and-contrast essays can simply show what two things have in common and how they are different, or they can be written to prove this similarity or difference. High school students often write comparison-contrast essays for English, history and science classes.

    Literature Essay

    You can create a comparative essay on two works you've read in similar genres -- two poems, two plays or two novels, for example. Use this essay structure to compare characters in one work of literature or main characters in two different works. For example, if you are studying Shakespeare’s plays, you might compare and contrast the tragic heroes Macbeth and Hamlet, the theme of evil or the topic of murder as it is presented in each play. Alternately, you could compare and contrast characters within each play, such as Hamlet and King Claudius in “Hamlet” or Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth.”

    History Essay

    Comparative essays for history class can involve comparing and contrasting significant events or movements of different periods, such as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe or 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. Compare the Revolutionary War to the American Civil War, or contrast the social position and quality of life of women in colonial times to those in our modern society. Historical turning points, such as the invention of electricity or the advent of traveling by train, can be used to compare and contrast daily life before and after a significant discovery or invention.

    Science Essay

    For science class, compare and contrast mammals and reptiles or two animals, such as humans and apes or turtles and lizards, that fall within each grouping. You can use this type of essay for a physics paper comparing the theories of Newton and Einstein or for contrasting ideas about cosmology before and after Galileo introduced his view of the universe. For an ecology lesson, students can compare and contrast statistics related to global warming at different points in time or compare the amount and type of trash produced daily in different countries around the world.

    Personal Essay

    Hone your essay writing skills by creating a comparative essay about your own life experiences. Compare and contrast attending public and private school, playing football versus soccer or the advantages and disadvantages of having a part-time job while attending high school. High school seniors can write an essay comparing and contrasting two colleges they are considering attending or the pros and cons of attending a four-year college versus a community college or vocational school.

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    About the Author

    For more than 15 years, Martha Mendenhall has been an educator both in and out of the classroom. She taught high school, worked with children of all ages on the plays of Shakespeare and tutors students in grades one through 12. Maendenhall authored "The Shakespeare Guru's Guide to Getting Shakespeare Alive," a guide for teachers and homeschool educators.

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