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Compare-and-Contrast Essay Topics to Enhance Your Writing Journey

compare and contrast essay topics

Similar Yet Different

So, you’ve been assigned to write a compare-and-contrast essay from scratch and you’re starting to worry about where to begin. You’re having a tough time coming up with ideas, and even worse, you’re not even sure if you understand the concept. As the deadline approaches and your anxiety increases, you’ve decided to look for some help and found yourself here. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back and will walk you through the process of how to write a compare-and-contrast essay, step by step.

Before you do anything, let’s define the concept of a compare-and-contrast essay and then we’ll look at how to choose a good topic. As the name indicates, a compare-and-contrast essay is simply an essay that examines two topics, ideas, or things, emphasizing some of their differences and similarities.

Now that you know what a compare-and-contrast essay is, you can sit down and start brainstorming some topics. It’s important to remember that the two topics must share some similarities yet also have enough differences to make an engaging paper. For example, “Space exploration versus Saturday night clubbing” is a poor choice because those two topics are not closely related. On the other hand, “Boxers versus briefs” could make a good essay because those two topics are similar but they have some notable differences. With that in mind, let’s take a more in-depth look into the process of selecting an excellent compare-and-contrast essay.

Criteria for Selecting Compare-and-Contrast Essay Topics

First, find a nice place where you can relax and brainstorm some ideas. This can be a library, park, or a quiet part of your home. Whatever gets your mind working is the best place. Take out a blank sheet of paper or start a new word processing document and make two columns, and in one column you’ll write one topic and then in the other column on the same line, you’ll write another, similar yet different topic. But before you start writing, here are a few more things for you to think about.

Any topics you choose should be engaging and interesting. A good compare-and-contrast essay keeps the reader interested and wanting to see what comes next. It helps to choose relevant topics that are current and significant. With that said, you should also consider topics that are of personal interest to you and the reader. You’ll find that writing a compare-and-contrast essay is much easier if you understand and like the topics, while your reader, or readers, will feel the same way.

Finally, a good compare-and-contrast essay has analytical depth. I’m not trying to get too nerdy on you here, but the best compare-and-contrast essays always have some in-depth analysis of the topics. When you write your compare-and-contrast essay it’s important to remember that you’re essentially arguing both sides of a debate. This method of discourse goes all the way back to ancient Greece and is known as dialectic. When you consider both sides in a compare-and-contrast essay from an objective point of view, then in-depth analysis will be reflected in your paper writing.

Compare-and-Contrast Essay Topics by Category

Now that you know what a compare-and-contrast essay is and some criteria for writing an essay, let’s start brainstorming! It may help when you start writing your topics to add the word “versus,” although this isn’t necessarily a requirement. Here are some categories and some specific categories and topics to help you get started.

Common Topics

These are topics that most people should be familiar with and ones that you’ve probably heard people debate in a variety of different settings. Think about topics you’ve discussed with friends or family at gatherings about how one thing is better than the other.

  • Dogs versus cats
  • Cash versus Credit
  • Summer versus winter
  • The West Coast versus the East Coast
  • Beer versus wine
  • Pickups versus cars
  • Interstates versus two-lane highways
  • PC versus Mac
  • Chevy versus Ford
  • Eastern Europe versus Western Europe

Controversial Topics

For this next category, let’s journey a bit outside of your comfort zone and look at some controversial topics. Remember, because this is a compare-and-contrast essay, you’ll have to approach this from both sides, which means you may have to argue on behalf of an idea or thing you don’t necessarily agree with. But this is all part of the process of making you a better writer and thinker.

  • The death penalty versus life in prison
  • Abortion versus adoption
  • Fascism versus communism
  • Trump versus Biden
  • Female athletes versus male athletes
  • Israel versus Palestine
  • Christianity versus Buddhism
  • Nuclear power versus hydropower
  • Ghandi versus Genghis Khan
  • “Red” states versus “blue” states

Easy Topics

This category has some overlap with the other categories, particularly common and fun topics. When you’re writing topics for this category think of topics that everyone can relate to that are a bit more on the light side. It also doesn’t hurt if you think to yourself, “Could my kid, niece or nephew, or little brother or sister understand this?” If so, then you’re on the right track.

  • Rich versus poor
  • Righty versus lefty
  • Old versus young
  • Android versus iPhone
  • The Hulk versus Superman
  • Cake versus pie
  • Lord of the Rings versus Harry Potter
  • Football versus soccer
  • Pen versus pencil
  • Long hair versus short hair

Fun Topics

For this category, feel free to use your sense of humor a bit, and remember that these should be less serious topics. Stay away from history, science, or current events topics unless they are a little more humorous. If you think in terms of things that people like to do – sports, food, and entertainment – then you’ll quickly come up with plenty of topics.

  • Baseball versus cricket
  • Apples versus oranges
  • Console gaming versus PC gaming
  • Chris Rock versus Dave Chappel
  • Amazon Prime versus Netflix
  • Netflix versus Hulu
  • First-person shooter versus third-person shooter
  • Sith versus Jedi
  • Chicago-style pizza versus New York-style pizza
  • Country versus hip-hop

Good Topics

Every category of topics we’ve looked at so far is good in its own way, but for this category think of topics that people are currently talking about. So, for “good topics,” they can be controversial, fun, and interesting, yet they also tend to be more currently relevant in the minds of most people.

  • Taylor Swift versus Lorde
  • Cryptocurrency versus the stock market
  • Putin versus Zelensky
  • TikTok versus X
  • The dollar versus the euro
  • Korean TV shows versus American TV shows
  • Superbowl versus the World Series
  • Emmy Awards versus Oscars Awards
  • Amazon versus Alibaba
  • Musk versus Zuckerberg

Interesting Topics

Every topic you write about should be interesting, but for this category think of some more unique and thoughtful topics. For this category of compare-and-contrast essays, peel the layers back on some science, history, and other topics to present your ideas in an engaging manner that will make the reader scratch her head and say, “Hum.”

  • Nature versus nurture
  • Mexican pyramids versus Egyptian pyramids
  • Gold versus silver
  • Sigmund Freud versus Carl Jung
  • War elephants versus horses
  • Astronomy versus astrology
  • Greek philosophers versus Roman philosophers
  • Economics versus finance
  • Calculus versus physics
  • Mississippi River versus Missouri River

Topics for High School Students

I’ve assembled topics here that are both appropriate for and of interest to high school students. Some of these topics concern studying and things high school students face every day, while others have to do with the lives of teenagers. When you devise your list of topics for high school students, remember to tap into your youthful side!

  • Best president versus the worst president
  • Summer break versus winter break
  • Packed lunch versus school cafeteria
  • Sports teams versus debate and speech teams
  • Physical education versus music education
  • Romantic love versus Platonic love
  • Part-time job versus sports and clubs
  • School bus versus carpooling
  • Homeschooling versus traditional school
  • Math versus history

Topics for College Students

As with the previous category, try to imagine yourself as a college student for this one. If you’re still a college student, then great, and if you’re a little older, then try to remember your glory days. And if you’re still in high school or have never gone to college, don’t worry! Just remember that these topics are things that are of interest to or affect college students in some way. These topics should also be a little more advanced than those for high school students. After all, college students should know a little bit more about the world, right?

  • Private versus public colleges
  • STEM versus humanities
  • Campus dorm versus off-campus apartment
  • Solo cups versus pint glasses
  • House of Representatives versus the Senate
  • College football versus college basketball
  • Essay versus research paper
  • Spring break versus fall break
  • Taking out loans versus working through college
  • College friends versus high school friends

Topics for Graduate Students

This category is topics for and about graduate students. Because graduate students are people seeking advanced degrees, the topics for this category should be a little more advanced than those for college students. Graduate students are dedicated to their fields, but they’re also usually well-read people who have a considerable amount of general knowledge and really enjoy learning.

  • Teaching assistantship versus research assistantship
  • Human exploration of Venus versus human exploration of Mars
  • Alexander the Great versus Julius Caesar
  • Thesis versus dissertation
  • Starting a family during graduate school versus waiting to start a family until after graduate school
  • Han Dynasty versus Ming Dynasty
  • Psychopath versus sociopath
  • Ptolemy versus Newton
  • Mammoths versus elephants
  • Primary sources versus secondary sources

Selecting the Right Topics

As you narrow down your list of potential compare-and-contrast essay topics, keep in mind the importance of selecting the right topics. Don't take this part of the process lightly, and remember to choose topics that are informative, engaging, and, perhaps most important, interesting to you. This last point is important because after you settle on two topics to compare and contrast, you’ll have to research the two things you are comparing. The research process will take a little time, so you’re “married” to these topics until you complete the essay.

When you finally get to the paper writing process, there are a couple of different formats you can use. First, you can present the first topic in its entirety, followed by the second. So, let’s say you’re comparing and contrasting Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Depending upon how long your essay is, after the introduction paragraph, you’ll write the first two or so paragraphs about Alexander – his life and what made him famous. Then, you’ll follow the same format with Caesar. Then, in a paragraph or two, you’ll list their similarities before going into their difference in one or more other paragraphs.

Another format you can use is going straight into the comparing and contrasting. For this method, you would immediately discuss how Alexander and Caesar were similar, their backgrounds, and what made them great. Then, after two or more paragraphs, you discuss how they differed for another two or more paragraphs. Whichever format you choose, it’s important to remember that there are some basic rules to follow.

Either compare-and-contrast essay format should have an introduction paragraph and a conclusion paragraph, just like with any type of essay. It’s also important to write a hook for your essay. It should be catchy but also relevant. For the example I used, the paper’s hook could go something like this: “Alexander the Great and Julius Ceasar are often compared as two of the ancient world’s greatest generals, and although they did share many similarities, they were also different in some notable ways.”

I encourage you to explore some of the topics listed above, but I also suggest coming up with your own ideas to challenge yourself. Writing a compare-and-contrast essay can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience if you approach it with the right strategy. Remember to keep your topics relevant, of personal interest to you and the reader, and reasonably deep. There are plenty of topics to choose from, so start brainstorming and have fun writing!

Elissa Smart Elissa Smart
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