How to Create a Thesis for a Compare & Contrast Essay

Compare & contrast essays demand focused thesis statements.
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To create a thesis statement for a compare and contrast essay, as Indiana's writing service demonstrates, you first select at least two elements of any one topic -- literature, historical periods, art forms, sports -- that your essay will analyze. You then integrate your knowledge of both sets of similarities and differences into a single work, with the thesis to focus the discussion.

1 Begin with Focus

Your thesis statement's focus tells how much of each point of view you will discuss. You decide how many points of comparison are presented, how many of contrast, and how they are integrated -- a Venn diagram is useful for this. Roane State's writing center notes that once you determine the essay's depth, you choose the type: time, outside comparison or perception. Your thesis will focus on things in past and present circumstances or the different ways things are perceived.

2 Time-Based Compare & Contrast

A time-based compare and contrast thesis compares how things once were to how they are at present. If your thesis statement deals with, say, political corruption, and says that "U.S. Senators are far more corrupt today than they were a century ago, but over similar issues," your essay will discuss similarities in objects of corruption -- graft, kickbacks -- and how they have not changed, but you will then discuss the different degrees of corruption between historical periods. Notice that the compare and contrast elements of your thesis, separated by "but," allow for this.

3 Outside Compare & Contrast Thesis Statements

Outside comparison and contrast shows one thing to be different from another thing. Again, your thesis provides focus and argues two separate elements: "Harvard's law department, as expensive as Yale's, is nevertheless a superior program." This two-point thesis will compare tuition costs but contrast school effectiveness. You can blend outside elements with time elements also; one to compare, one to contrast. "College professors, whose instruction has not substantially changed over the last twenty years, are nevertheless more stringent in grading essays than previously," yields an essay with focus that shows comparisons in instruction over time but contrasts in current assessment.

4 Appearance vs. Reality Thesis Statements

Compare and contrast perception thesis statements examine a given reality against the way it is perceived. "Many people believe marriage is the answer to all problems," invites you to write an essay that compares and contrasts successful and unsuccessful unions, analyzes marital statistics for points of similarity and difference or examines similar social myths that have different effects on different people. Again, the focus of the thesis determines not only what elements are compared and contrasted, but the depth and breadth of the essay the thesis will produce.

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.