Compare and contrast is a common format for English essays and research papers. A compare and contrast essay describes the similarities and differences between two related people, places, things, or ideas. Teachers and professors like this format because it requires students to analyze a topic and think critically about it. Follow these steps to write a great compare and contrast essay in English.

1. Pick your topic

For a compare and contrast essay, choose two things that are in the same category (like two countries, two sports, etc.) When possible, choose something you are interested in; your passion will make your writing better.

One big mistake to avoid: Don’t try to write about a topic that’s too broad. After you choose a topic, consider narrowing it to one aspect of that topic. For example, you would need to write a book to describe all the similarities and differences between two countries. Instead, you might compare their economies, the structures of their governments, or their education systems.

2. Choose points of comparison

This is a good time to brainstorm. Make a list of all of the similarities and differences that you can think of for your topic. Then choose the points that are most relevant and interesting for your essay. Unless the instructions for your essay say otherwise, you should include both similarities and differences.

Be sure that your points of comparison aren’t too simple; it’s hard to write a paragraph about, for example, the fact that Country A is larger than Country B unless you have more information about the implications of each country’s size.

3. Organize your ideas

Now that you have two things to compare and the points you’ll compare, it’s time to organize the body of your essay. There are two ways you can organize your compare and contrast essay: Block style or point-by-point style.

Block style gives all information about one topic, and then all information about the other topic (in the same order). Here’s an example of a basic block style outline:

  1. Country A’s economy
    1. dependent on oil
    2. strong government control
    3. relatively low poverty rate
    4. modest national debt
  2. Country B’s economy
    1.  dependent on oil
    2.  strong government control
    3.  relatively high poverty rate
    4. large national debt

In a point-by-point essay, each point of comparison is discussed for both topics in turn. Here’s the same information as above organized in a point-by-point outline:

  1. Main industry
    1. Country A: oil
    2. Country B: oil
  2. Government control of economy
    1. Country A: strong
    2. Country B: strong
  3. Poverty rate
    1. Country A: lower
    2. Country B: higher
  4. National debt
    1. Country A: modest
    2. Country B: large

4. Add a strong introduction and conclusion

Studies show that we remember the beginning and end of what we read more than the middle. Therefore, you should be sure your essay has a strong introduction and conclusion.

The introduction needs to catch the reader’s attention. You can do this with a surprising fact, a bold statement, or an interesting quote. Then tell the reader where your essay is going: What two things are you comparing? What are you going to say about them?

In your conclusion, summarize the main points of your essay. Suggest a next step for the reader or simply leave them believing that what you had to say was important.

5. Take a break, and then revise

After you write your first draft, wait at least a day before you read it again. Is your organization clear? Are there points that need more support from an example, definition, or fact? If you’re unsure, ask a friend to read your essay and tell you what they understand from it. What did they find unclear or unconvincing?

6. Edit for grammar, spelling, and mechanics

Once you’ve edited the your essay for content, it’s time to make sure the actual writing is correct. To check your grammar, try reading your essay sentence by sentence, but backwards, starting with the last sentence. This force you to think about each sentence individually rather than following the organization of the essay as a whole. Check your spelling, and then be sure you’ve met your teacher’s instructions for font size, spacing, and headers.