Writing Support Services, Student Success Centre ucalgary.ca/ssc/writing-support Writing a Comparison/Critical Analysis Essay Picking a Topic The most difficult task is deciding where to start. Your professor may have given you a book review assignment, a short essay assignment, or an in-class exam and asked you to critique, or to compare and contrast, information. Writing a comparison essay, though, requires more than just listing similarities and differences; you must tell your reader why these similarities and differences are important. First, you must pick a few topics that you want to compare and contrast. Make a list of topics compiled from each source. Next, decide which topic you would like to discuss. If you are given articles about climate change in Alberta, for example, you might want to discuss glacier, rainfall, and snowfall patterns. Keep in mind that you are looking for topics that most or all of your sources discuss, not just one source (there wouldn't be much to compare, would there?). Use this chart to help you plan your topics Possible Topics Source 1: Source 2: Source 3: Source 4: Fill in the spaces with any interesting topics you might come across, and fill in the name of each source. You might also want to write down page numbers, so that you don't lose track of where your topics come from. Once you find a few topics that appear in all of your sources, you can start to compare and contrast them. Revised September 2014 2 Comparing and Contrasting Now that you've chosen a topic, you can weigh them against each other. These are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself as you return to your sources: Do all sources agree? If not, why? How does each source approach each topic? Here is another chart to help you organize your comparisons Similarities Differences Topic 1: Topic 2: The hard part is finished. Now, you can focus on writing. Writing Compare and contrast essays tend to follow three basic organization patterns. All three may contain the same information, but it is presented in a different manner. In the first method, the writer follows this basic pattern: Body Paragraph(s) A - presents all the information about Topic 1 Body Paragraph(s) B - presents all the information about Topic 2 The second method involves alternating within each paragraph. It is organized as follows: Body Paragraph – about one aspect of the comparison Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 1, Topic 2 Body Paragraph – about another aspect of the comparison Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 1, Topic 2 The third method is a combination of the above methods. Don’t forget that you need to explain why these similarities and differences are important. If two sources agree on one topic and disagree on another, you can discuss why this is a significant observation. If two or more papers agree about a single topic, but come to different conclusions, this is also something to address. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose what is important or not, but hopefully this guide has made it easier for you to complete.