A compare and contrast essay is an essay in which you either compare something or contrast something. A compare & contrast essay is an essay in which you emphasize the similarities, and a contrast essay is an essay in which you emphasize the differences. We use comparison and contrast thinking when deciding which university to attend, which car to buy, or whether to drive a car or take a bus or an airplane to a vacation site.
Compare and contrast essay assignment prompts are easy to identify since they typically appear in the following form: “Compare and contrast X and Y. Discuss the similarities and differences between X and Y.” In a college English class, X might be a poem and Y might be a short story or a brief quote. A compare & contrast essay assignment that includes a short story and a poem is usually asking that the student compare and contrast the theme — or main idea — of each piece of writing. Since comparison essays ask the student to contrast as well as compare things or ideas, they are often referred to as “compare and contrast” essays.
Of course, writing a compare and contrast essay about a complex topic, like the similarities between two pieces of literature, can be significantly more difficult. To write a comparison essay about literature, you’ll need to become familiar with how to write a literature essay, especially with the practice close reading and with the concept of “theme.” But with experience, most students discover that writing a comparison and contrast essay about literature is not much different than writing about the similarities and differences between anything else.