Few college students are able to avoid the infamous comparative analysis paper, also called a "compare and contrast essay." This academic standby requires you to compare two things--whether you're analyzing two different governmental policies or two different Shakespearean sonnets. The key to writing a successful comparative analysis is to establish a good thesis and organizational scheme before you start writing. Read on to learn more.
Develop a framework
Start with a frame of reference--a basis for comparison. Sometimes the assignment provides this to you by asking you specifically to compare the use of propaganda in two different governments--rather than just to compare two governments--or the way a novelist uses physical descriptions to characterize two of her protagonists, rather than just to compare these characters. If your professor doesn't provide a specific means of comparison, you'll need to come up with this on your own. Make a list of the similarities and differences between the two things you're comparing. As you do this, remember that your goal from this exercise will be to craft a thesis--an argument about how the two things are similar and/or different.
Create your premise
Write your thesis. You might want to do some brainstorming on paper before you come up with a thesis, or another prewriting technique like clustering. Another good way to come up with a strong thesis is to discuss your topic with another classmate and bounce ideas off of him. Outline the rest of your paper using one of the following two effective ways to organize a comparative analysis. One is to write several paragraphs about the first subject, and then a few paragraphs on the second subject you're comparing the first one to, noting similarities and differences. The second is to write a paragraph about the first subject, then a paragraph about the second--noting how the second differs or is similar to the first one. You repeat this process of alternating from one subject to the other until you have touched on all of the similarities and differences that you wish to compare and contrast.
Finish with style
Write a conclusion that goes over the gist of what you discussed in the previous paragraphs and reinforces your thesis. Carefully proofread before you submit your work. Also make sure you've cited all sources properly, using APA or MLA style--or whatever style guide your professor has asked you to rely upon.
Read a few comparative analysis papers before writing one, so you'll understand the genre. Talk to your professor and/or a writing tutor as you begin thinking through ideas for your paper. The best time to get help on a writing assignment is while you're in the process of writing it--not when you've done a first draft that needs reworking. It's better to get a handle on the topic before you start drafting it.