How to Write a Compare & Contrast Essay in Sociology: a College-Level Guide for Students

The principle of writing a compare and contrast essay is seemingly simple: you take two or more things (concepts, phenomena, events, organizations, etc.) and analyze them side-by-side, indicating what they have in common and what makes them different. However, when it comes to realization, many students find out that the task is much more complicated than they were led to believe. An essay of this type should be more than just an enumeration of similarities and differences – you should offer an overarching idea that brings all the points you discuss together and offers a bigger-picture conclusion. It may be especially complicated in case of sociology, because this discipline usually deals with relatively abstract topics, and analyzing them properly requires skill and deep understanding of the underlying principles at work.

Using this guide, however, you will be able to find your way through these difficulties even if you do not have a prior experience of writing such essays.

How to Choose a Rewarding Topic for a Compare and Contrast Essay in Sociology

Choosing a topic may be troublesome, especially if your professor does not limit you in any way. Sociology is a broad subject, and trying to pick a topic without having any indication of where to look leaves many students confused. If you do not already have a topic you would like to write about, follow these steps.

1. Define Your Limits

Is your choice limited in any way? Did your professor delineate a general theme you should cover? If he/she did not, better do it yourself, it will make your job easier. Here are a few suggestions of what you can limit your choice to:

  • Topics related to your current course. If you have studied some information that can be relevant for your essay, it can save you time you would otherwise spend looking for sources;
  • Topics you know a lot about. What we mean here is not just personal background knowledge about a particular subject, but rather an access to a source of information that is not immediately available for public – e.g., if you know somebody from an organization that has records relevant for a particular venue of sociological research;
  • Topics you have a strong personal opinion on – writing when you are personally invested in the subject matter is always easier and faster than when you try to deal with a topic that does not particularly interest you. It produces better results as well.

2. Brainstorm

After you have more or less delineated the area you intend to cover, start brainstorming for viable ideas. Sociology is a convenient discipline in the sense that it is possible to find suitable subject for research in the most mundane things. The format of a compare and contrast essay demands that you run a comparative analysis of two or more entities. Consider looking for things to compare based on the following:

  • Geographical or national differences. E.g., if you intend to write about the measures of controlling and limiting criminal activities, you can compare approaches to this problem in different countries;
  • Cultural differences. A society’s approach to dealing with a problem is vastly dependent on its culture. Compare two or more cultures in how they deal with an issue in question;
  • Differences in time. Society changes over time, and a society in its current state can have little to nothing in common with itself just a decade or two ago. Compare a state of an issue at two different points in time;
  • Technological differences. The emergence of new technologies causes vast changes to the way society operates. Compare an issue based on how it is treated in more and less technologically developed societies.

3. Gather General Information

Once you have decided upon the entities you intend to compare, start gathering information about them, starting with the most basic sources: encyclopedias, dictionary entries and so on. This will help you decide if there are enough points of contact between the subjects (meaningful comparative analysis requires its subjects to be relatively similar, even if you intend to focus on the differences between them). If you run into trouble at this stage, it is better to look for another topic than to try and salvage this one.

4. Define the Frame of Reference

Frame of reference is the context within which you put the entities you intend to compare. It may be an idea, a theory, a sociological issue, a common theme, a group to which all these entities belong, etc. It is better to build your frame of reference on the information from a specific source rather than your own thoughts. For example, if you compare the approach of dealing with unemployment in two different countries, try to find a reliable scholarly source covering the subject.

5. Word Your Title and Formulate Your Thesis Statement

Choose the final wording for your title, but first you have to create a specific thesis statement. A thesis statement is a declarative sentence that points out the main idea of your essay. It is different from title or topic – these tell what your essay is about. A thesis statement tells what you think about its subject matter. For example, “Crime prevention in the USA and China” is a topic. “Compared to the American approach, crime prevention in China relies on constant and all-encompassing surveillance and easily encroaches upon basic human rights under the pretext of efficiency” is a thesis statement. A thesis statement should be:

  • Short (a sentence long, two at the very maximum);
  • Specific (no ambiguities or vague wording);
  • Focused (containing a single point. An essay is too short a paper to hold more).

If you cannot write a thesis statement that would fit these requirements, it may be the sign that you need to modify the topic and title.
Here are some topics you can come up with using this approach:

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
  • Social Views on Marriage and Cohabitation in the USA of 1950s and Today;
  • Balancing Work and Family: How Women Deal with the Problem in the USA and France;
  • The Role of Family Ties in Great Britain and Spain: A Comparative Analysis;
  • Single Parents in the USA and India: Common Issues and Notable Differences;
  • American and Japanese Parenting Styles: Differences, Similarities, Results.

Writing and Structuring a Compare and Contrast Essay in Sociology

The most important issue about writing a compare and contrast essay in sociology is how you decide to structure it – otherwise it is quite similar to all other types of essays. There is a number of structure types to choose from:

Lens/Keyhole Comparison

If you use this approach, you not so much compare two entities, but analyze one of them using another as a lens. As a result, A and B are not present in the essay on equal terms, but you use A as a framework or context for discussing B. This approach is particularly useful if you want to show a subject from an unusual point of view, challenge the stability of how it is perceived or provide unusual critique of a status quo that seems obvious in isolation but becomes questionable when viewed from a rarely considered direction. For example, we are all so used to American parenting and upbringing style that we do not question its viability. However, if we look at it through the lens of a drastically different cultural approach (e.g., Chinese or Japanese one), we can discover that the things are not as clear-cut as we used to believe.

Point by Point

In this approach, you identify a number of crucial characteristics according to which you compare A and B, and analyze how they stand in relation to them side by side. This approach is especially useful if A and B stand in clear opposition to each other and have definite and recognizable stances on a variety of issues. However, use it carefully, as a long essay written in this way starts looking as a Ping-Pong game. You can prevent this effect by limiting the number of times you alternate between A and B – either by cutting on the number of points you cover or grouping two or more of them together. If you do the latter, make sure these groupings are relevant.

Don’t try to pay equal attention to similarities and differences – remember, your purpose is not to mindlessly compare two things but to discover an interesting pattern. For example, you can point out that although two schools of thought have notably different views on most subjects, they come to remarkably similar conclusions on a particular issue. Or on the contrary, an issue is treated almost identically in two societies, except for a single aspect that makes all the other similarities insignificant in comparison.

Subject by Subject

With this approach, you first analyze A in its entirety, then go on to B. To keep your essay organized, try to analyze comparable points of A and B in the same order. The order in which you analyze A and B is also important – if you have to refer to important aspects of A when you analyze B, it is better to discuss A first.

The problem with this approach is that A and B are too separated from each other, and it is easy to lose connections between them. Sometimes such essays turn into simple descriptions of two entities without much in terms of conclusions. To avoid this, either refer to the first subject when you analyze the second one or write a separate fragment dedicated to summing everything up.

How to Effectively Proofread a Compare and Contrast Essay in Sociology

If you think that after doing an in-depth analysis your job is done, you are mistaken. 9 times out of 10, the first draft of your essay contains serious blunders that can harm your chances of getting a good grade. At the very least, by spending some time editing, proofreading and polishing it you can significantly improve its quality.

1. Take a Break

Ideally, you should spend a day or two away from your essay to let your memory of its details get a little vague – this way you will see it from a fresh perspective. Of course, this is not always possible due to time constraints, so judge by your situation. Take at least a 30-minte break if you cannot afford to delay for longer.

2. Use Proofreading Tools but Do not Rely on Them

Proofreading tools like Grammarly or Wordrake are somewhat better than Word’s spellchecker and can be useful in spotting some of the more blatant mistakes, but do not take what they say at face value. They often underline words and phrases without any errors and miss obvious mistakes. In other words, they can attract your attention to mistakes you did not notice, but if you have even the slightest doubts about their suggestions, don’t use it.

3. Read Your Essay Backwards

By proofreading your essay backwards, either sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph, you disrupt the flow of argument and logical connections within the text, which forces you to focus on mechanical errors.

4. Proofread Your Essay Multiple Times

Each time focus on a different aspect of your text: grammar, spelling, punctuation, word repetitions, excessive adverbs and adjectives, paragraph and sentence structure.

5. Ask Another Person to Proofread for You

For example, collaborate with another student to proofread each other’s works. A person unfamiliar with the text is more likely to spot mistakes than its author.

6. Change the Way Your Text Looks

Print it out and proofread on paper. Alternatively, change the font size and type. This will break your existing perception of the text, allowing you to find more mistakes.

7. Check for Missing Words

Our brains are hard-wired to fill in the gaps, especially in familiar texts. As a result, you may have omitted some words and never noticed it. Reread your essay slowly and carefully, paying special attention to it.

Now you simply have to print out the final draft of your essay and submit it. We hope this guide will help you get an excellent mark the next time you get such an assignment!