The idea of a compare and contrast essay is relatively straightforward: you take two or more items (things, concepts, principles, events, phenomena, etc.) that belong to the same category and analyze them side by side. Thus you are able to see what they have in common, how they differ and if there are any underlying patterns to all this.
However, in practice things are not that simple, especially when you work with an area of knowledge such as management. Beyond high school, you are very unlikely to get an assignment to compare simple physical items. When it comes to management, the subject of your writing is likely to be something along the lines of management strategies, employee motivation programs and so on. In other words, you will have to deal with relatively vague concepts that do not have clear-cut specific features. In order to single them out, you will have to analyze your subject matter from multiple viewpoints and draw far-reaching conclusions. As you can see, it is far more complicated than simply taking two things and enumerating all their features one by one.
However, although it is somewhat more difficult than you may have thought, it does not have to turn into your personal stumbling block. With the help of the guide you are currently reading you will be able to approach this task systematically and complete it with flying colors.
Like with any other essay type, a compare and contrast essay heavily depends on what topic you choose to write about. With this type of academic writing, however, you do not have to be particularly creative in this regard, because your topic boils down to the choice of things to compare. Your professors are likely to ask you to compare management approaches, methods, theories, common practices and so on.
Usually your topic will simply state what you compare; sometimes, if the concepts under scrutiny are particularly complex, you have to be a bit more specific. E.g., you can mention what aspects of the compared items you intend to pay special attention to: for example, extra expenses incurred, influence on employee turnaround and so on. In addition, sometimes your task will only ask you to talk about similarities or differences of the items in question (especially if it is a short essay you have to write during an exam).
Eventually, you have to end up with a topic like one of these:
Before you proceed, you have to make sure you have enough information to make a meaningful comparison and draw some conclusions from it. You do not want to discover that there is not much to say about both differences and similarities of the items under scrutiny after you have already committed to a particular topic.
Do a bit of digging. Define the most important keywords related to your topic and run a few searches in academic databases, particularly those that deal specifically with management and leadership.
After you find a publication dealing with the topic of your essay, check out other texts by the same author and look through its bibliography section – you may find something useful there.
You should do it before you start writing, because if you suddenly discover that you have chosen the wrong structure, it will take some effort to make the necessary changes.
There are two basic approaches to structuring a compare and contrast essay:
In this structure, you speak about one item being compared at a time, provide all the information about it and move on to the next one. Sometimes you may conclude the main part of the essay with a section drawing attention to the similarities or the differences between the items, but it is not necessary.
This approach is better suited if you compare the items in question across a very limited number of characteristics. If there are a lot of aspects to consider, the block structure will be cumbersome to deal with and confusing to read. It is a viable choice for essays that compare more than two items.
In the essays written according to this structure, you compare the items in relation to one characteristic at a time. For example, if you compare two management approaches, you may first discuss how they work for the companies of varying sizes, move on to their efficiency in terms of employee motivation, and conclude the essay by analyzing how they affect innovativeness and initiative.
This approach is better suited for larger essays when you have to analyze the items in question in some detail. However, it requires additional planning and may be a bit more difficult to write.
Thesis statement strips the primary idea of your essay of all the details and extra information and leaves only the most important data. Ask yourself: if I only had a single middle-sized sentence to express the main point of my essay, what would this sentence be? A thesis sentence should be laconic, focus on a single point and devoid of any potential for misinterpretation. Also, make sure you understand how it is different from the topic of your paper and its research question. The topic delineates what you intend to speak about. The research question defines what you want to find out. The thesis statement states the main idea behind your essay. For example:
Transition signals are the words and phrases that connect separate sections of the essay and support the impression of smooth transition from one paragraph (point, piece of evidence) to another. There are many different transition signals, but some are better suited for compare and contrast essays. Some examples are:
Many students believe that your average essay does not have any structure besides the overarching plan you prepare beforehand. However, experienced writers always follow certain structures both for the paper in general and for individual paragraphs. By keeping their structure consistent, you make it easier for yourself to write them and for the audience to follow their meaning. The typical structure is as follows:
Writing an essay from start to finish is rarely the fastest or most effective approach to work. If you try to do so, chances are that you will spend too much time wording the introduction, then have to rewrite it after you write the body paragraphs. Usually the optimal order in which to write an essay is to start with body paragraphs, then proceed to the introduction (after you already know the contents of the essay) and finish with relevant conclusions to the ideas mentioned in the beginning.
Before you proceed to checking grammar and spelling, it is important to make sure the logic and flow of your essay are sound, because this is where students often make the most glaring mistakes. The most common type of mistake is shift in comparison criteria that comes unnoticed by you as you write your essay. For example, when comparing two leadership styles, one may say something along these lines: ‘Autocratic leadership is characterized by centralization of power in the hands of a single individual, while democratic leadership is more relation-oriented and aims at improving the relationship between the leader and his/her subordinates’. While the characteristics described here are related to each other, they do not strictly belong to the single criterion. It would be more suitable to say that autocratic leadership is concerned with task completion while democratic leadership is more relation-oriented, or that autocratic model requires centralization of power while democratic one delegates some of the authority to the group members.
Check your essay for bias, especially if you know yourself to be inclined to support or value one of the compared items more than the other one. In compare and contrast essay, your goal is not to prove your point and persuade the audience at any cost, but to objectively analyze the items against the backdrop of each other. If you deliberately omit certain points because they go against your desired conclusion, you do more harm than good to your point. Instead, think of how you can address these points and do it preventively, without waiting to be called on your bluff.
Although the opinion of your professor on how formal your language should be may differ, it is better to be safe than sorry and stick to traditions. Here are some mistakes you should avoid:
Finally, it is time to correct the mechanical flaws in your writing: wrong spelling, poor grammar and so on. If possible, take a break from writing for a day or two to get a fresh perspective on your own writing. If you know somebody you can trust to pay enough attention, ask him/her to proofread the essay for you. When you do your own proofreading, use the following techniques to improve its effectiveness:
Writing a compare and contrast essay, especially in a highly practice-oriented discipline such as management, may look like an insurmountable task. However, if you approach it systematically, plan in hand, and follow it step by step, you are likely to deal with it faster than your peers and get better results to boot.