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How to Write Comparative Essays in Literature

by Andrew Aarons, Demand Media

    There is no golden rule for writing a great academic paper, except maybe "be a great writer." When it comes to comparative essays in literature, finding the formula for success is a bit more straightforward. The important thing is to work consistently with every source that you include, treating each piece of literature equally and thoughtfully, and to flow between sections seamlessly, making sure that each comparison you make is thoughtful and coherent.

    Working With Themes

    When starting out, choose one or two ideas that you'll compare in a work (or in two or more different works). It's helpful to map out your essay before you start writing and then to come back to your map as you write. Make a chart with the themes at the top and note examples (with page numbers) of the themes you're exploring. For example, if you're comparing different analyses of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, write the possible interpretations across the top, such as the monster as a creation, the monster as a child, and so on.

    Strong Thesis

    Remember that a comparative essay requires a strong thesis statement in your introduction. An introduction doesn't necessarily have to be a single paragraph, but it's important that your thesis appears in the first page of your essay. Shape your thesis like this: "By examining different interpretations of the monster in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, it becomes clear that Shelly intended to create a cautionary tale about humankind's fascination with science and playing god." This sentence establishes your main argument and makes clear to the reader that you'll come to your conclusion by comparing interpretations from different perspectives.

    Treat Different Subjects Equally

    As you write through your analysis, be sure to balance the amount of attention you give to each topic you're comparing. In the example of Frankenstein, you can look at the creation of the monster through the lens of your thesis -- as an example of man playing god -- and then as an example of man as a mother figure. Find language that supports each idea you wish to compare and be sure to include quotations (or paraphrase) from the text of the book.

    Use Transitions

    Perhaps the most important aspect of a successful comparative essay is the transition between paragraphs of opposing ideas. Your transitions will guide your argument and make your reader more aware of your stronger points. For example, you might start a paragraph with "While Shelly gives ample suggestion that Victor nurtures and mothers his creation at the moment of its inception, her use of creator language is more persuasive." This introductory sentence establishes the topic of the paragraph while making clear what idea you are comparing.

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    About the Author

    Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.

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