Common Writing Assignments

12 The Compare/Contrast Essay

The compare/contrast essay is a common high school and college writing assignment. Your teachers might ask you to write an essay comparing and contrasting two poems, two short stories, two characters in one or two novels, two similar consumer products, a policy of two world leaders, health care in the US and Canada, the zone and the man-to-man defence, two film or music stars, two cities. Every academic subject lends itself to the compare/contrast essay, and teachers assign it often because it assesses higher order reasoning, since it requires reflection upon, knowledge of, and the ability to assess characteristics of two different phenomena, entities, or artifacts.

There are two templates or outlines for a compare/contrast essay.

The first is the common traits method. Using this method, you identify the common traits for both of the items you are comparing and contrasting, then write alternate paragraphs for each common trait. If you were writing a compare/contrast essay on two capital cities, a paragraph on the friendliness of the citizens of Ottawa might be compared and contrasted in the following paragraph with the friendliness of the citizens of Beijing. The culture of the two cities, the shopping, the restaurants, the economy, the natural beauty—these might be other points for comparison and contrast.

The second is the similarities and differences method. The first part of the body of your essay describes how X and Y are similar; the second half describes how they are different. Suppose, for example, you were comparing the Ferrari with the Lamborghini. The Ferrari and the Lamborghini are both highest end luxury sports cars; their aesthetic appeal is similar; they both use 7-speed semi-automatic transmissions; their performance ratings—horsepower, top speed, zero-to-sixty speed— are close. These are all points of similarity you might include in the first part of a compare/contrast essay. The Ferrari engine is closer to the front of the car than the Lamborghini engine, which is in the middle of the body of the car; Ferrari is rear-wheel drive, Lamborghini is four-wheel drive; Ferrari offers more model choices; Ferrari has won more prestigious racing awards. These are some points you might develop into paragraphs for the differences part of this compare/contrast essay.

The compare/contrast essay is usually expository in that it presents readers with information and broadens their knowledge, but it might have an argumentative edge. If, for example, you don’t want a new strip mall built on the outskirts of your small town, your compare/contrast essay might end up favouring the main street shopping experience.

Read carefully the following example of a compare/contrast essay on alternate sources of energy.

Example: The Wind and the Sun as Sources of Green Energy

Fossil fuels, oil, and natural gas have provided the power we need to drive our cars, heat our houses, and operate our businesses for more than the last hundred years. Unfortunately, in about another hundred years, the world’s reserves of fossil fuels will be depleted (Puiu). The demise of the fossil fuel industry will not be mourned by all because carbon emissions are a source of pollution and a major factor in climate change. But the end of fossil fuels does mean there will be a crucial need for alternate sources of energy, and now is the time to find them. Wind and solar power are among the promising new sources of the energy our great-grandchildren will require in the next century.

The wind and the sun provide renewable energy, at least as long as the wind blows and the sun shines. They are also free, though harvesting their energy is not. Their energy is stored in a similar manner. The sun’s heat can be absorbed by specially designed panels, which convert the sun’s heat and light into electrical energy, which is stored within a battery. High-tech windmills power a turbine, which converts wind into electrical energy and stores it within a battery. The two sources differ, however, in more ways than they are similar.

Wind energy is more cost-effective than solar energy is. The panels that gather the sun’s energy are more expensive to install—so expensive, in fact, that it may take many years before consumers start to save the money they would have spent on oil or natural gas (Anderson). Wind is a more reliable source of energy because it can blow all day and all night. The sun cannot shine all day and all night, and even during the day, it can be blocked by clouds. Solar panels require less maintenance than wind turbines, but not so much less to make them more cost-effective.

Solar panels do have the advantage when it comes to location. They can be installed on the roof of a house, in an urban neighbourhood. Wind turbines are too noisy to erect in an urban neighbourhood. They usually sprout on wind farms remote from urban settings, and even in oceans, where the wind can be fierce. The cost of transporting wind energy to the consumers and businesses that need it can be high. Too many wind farms are a blight on the landscape. And they can be lethal to inattentive birds, which all too frequently unwittingly fly into their deadly blades.

Some environmentally conscious homeowners are installing both solar panels and wind turbines to provide uninterrupted energy to heat and light their houses and run their entertainment units and appliances. This approach solves or at least diminishes the problem of intermittent energy loss, which occurs when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. It is not an ideal solution. Upfront installation costs are high. The wind turbine needs to be as high as possible to catch the wind, but it will still generate noise that might disturb the neighbours. Ironically, the system can produce too much energy, which can overwhelm and harm the batteries, or it might produce too little energy on calm nights.

Those skeptical of the promise of green energy love the joke “Is the wind blowing? I want to watch TV tonight.” There is still some truth in this jest. But green energy engineers continue to work hard to lower costs and improve performance, and they are confident that, properly harnessed, energy from the wind and the sun can significantly diminish our reliance on disappearing fossil fuels and improve the air we breathe.

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark. “Similarities and Differences of Solar and Wind Energy.” Hunker. (n.d.), Accessed 3 March 2019.

Puiu, Tibi. “How Long Before the World Runs out of Fossil Fuels?Zmescience. 8 June 2018, Accessed 2 March 2019.


The Wind and the Sun as Sources of Green Energy

Study Questions

Respond to these questions in writing, in small group discussion, or both.

  1. List the two main reasons why we will need new sources of energy, other than that provided by fossil fuels, in the future.
  2. Which of the two templates explained above for structuring a compare/contrast essay does the writer use for this essay?
  3. Which green energy source—wind or sun—shows greater promise, according to this essay?

Writing Assignment

Write a compare/contrast essay of approximately 750 words on one of these topics: two popular video games; two television sitcoms; the defensive (or offensive) strategies of two sports teams; two brands of jeans, or other clothing item; two fast-food burgers.  You can also select your own topic or one your teacher provides.


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Composition and Literature Copyright © 2019 by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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