Compare & Contrast Research Paper Topics

Students in high school and college often are required to write compare-and-contrast papers.
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Compare-and-contrast assignments require students to use critical thinking skills as they form connections between ideas and scrutinize different perspectives. Topics for compare-and-contrast research papers can be found in every subject. Writers can research and compare cultural context in literature and social sciences. When considering scientific theories, writers can use comparative data to provide supporting details for each subject in a compare-and-contrast analysis.

1 Literature

Compare similarly constructed works of literature from different time periods. For instance, Boccaccio’s’ “Decameron,” Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Longfellow’s “Tales from a Wayside Inn” all are collections of tales told by fictional travelers as they pass time on a journey. Research and a careful analysis of the text will uncover the setting and purpose of the journeys, and reveal any conflict that was encountered along the way. Compare poetry written on similar themes. For instance, two poems that explore fatherhood are “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden and “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath. Compare the poets as well as the poetry in order to present a context for their work. Researching the lives and struggles of the writers will provide insight into their perspectives.

2 Science

Science naturally involves gathering data to construct theories, which makes a great foundation for compare-and-contrast research papers. Compare the veracity of theories that explain natural phenomena such as expanding earth theory vs. plate tectonics. Researchers can gather measurable data which supports the motion of tectonic plates. Compare that to the lack of evidence available to support the expanding earth theory. Another idea is to compare the immediate impact certain theories and discoveries had on their fields of study. Einstein’s theory of relativity versus his work on the photoelectric effect is a good example.

3 Social Studies

Analyze events and their effects on society. Compare the impact on daily life of 18th century inventions versus modern ones. For example, research how inventions like the cotton gin or the steam engine affected daily life and compare and contrast the results with the effects of computers and lasers on society today. Compare the lives and works of human rights advocates, such as the work of Dorothea Dix and Mother Theresa. Research the cultural and economic conditions which provided the backdrop for the social issues they addressed. Compare and discuss the resources that were available to them and any adversity they had to overcome.

4 Relevant Issues

Economic and cultural changes require young adults to analyze the reasons and motivations for traditional career paths. A compare-and-contrast research paper is an excellent medium to explore this reality. Topics could include, “Is it better to follow your dreams or sacrifice them in order to bear the responsibilities of adulthood?" Research could include social science data which measures the health and happiness of people in high-paying power positions and people in less stressful lower-paying jobs that bring fulfillment. Another topic could be "In today’s job market, how important is it to have a college degree?" Research could include the average starting salary of positions that require a college degree compared to the amount of debt accrued to get that degree. Compare those figures with the starting salary of white collar jobs that don't require a degree.

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.