Comparison Essay 2: Structure

There are two common ways to structure a comparison essay: block-by-block or point-by-point. In either way, the essay discusses relevant points of comparison.

Example Essay

Comparing and Contrasting London and Washington, DC

By Scott McLean in Writing for Success

Both Washington, DC, and London are capital cities of English-speaking countries, and yet they offer vastly different experiences to their residents and visitors. Comparing and contrasting the two cities based on their history, their culture, and their residents show how different and similar the two are.

Both cities are rich in world and national history, though they developed on very different time lines. London, for example, has a history that dates back over two thousand years. It was part of the Roman Empire and known by the similar name, Londinium. It was not only one of the northernmost points of the Roman Empire but also the epicenter of the British Empire where it held significant global influence from the early sixteenth century on through the early twentieth century. Washington, DC, on the other hand, has only formally existed since the late eighteenth century. Though Native Americans inhabited the land several thousand years earlier, and settlers inhabited the land as early as the sixteenth century, the city did not become the capital of the United States until the 1790s. From that point onward to today, however, Washington, DC, has increasingly maintained significant global influence. Even though both cities have different histories, they have both held, and continue to hold, significant social influence in the economic and cultural global spheres.

Both Washington, DC, and London offer a wide array of museums that harbor many of the world’s most prized treasures. While Washington, DC, has the National Gallery of Art and several other Smithsonian galleries, London’s art scene and galleries have a definite edge in this category. From the Tate Modern to the British National Gallery, London’s art ranks among the world’s best. This difference and advantage has much to do with London and Britain’s historical depth compared to that of the United States. London has a much richer past than Washington, DC, and consequently has a lot more material to pull from when arranging its collections. Both cities have thriving theater districts, but again, London wins this comparison, too, both in quantity and quality of theater choices. With regard to other cultural places like restaurants, pubs, and bars, both cities are very comparable. Both have a wide selection of expensive, elegant restaurants as well as a similar amount of global and national chains. While London may be better known for its pubs and taste in beer, DC offers a different bar-going experience. With clubs and pubs that tend to stay open later than their British counterparts, the DC night life tend to be less reserved overall.

Both cities also share and differ in cultural diversity and cost of living. Both cities share a very expensive cost of living—both in terms of housing and shopping. A downtown one-bedroom apartment in DC can easily cost $1,800 per month, and a similar “flat” in London may double that amount. These high costs create socioeconomic disparity among the residents. Although both cities’ residents are predominantly wealthy, both have a significantly large population of poor and homeless. Perhaps the most significant difference between the resident demographics is the racial makeup. Washington, DC, is a “minority majority” city, which means the majority of its citizens are races other than white. In 2009, according to the US Census, 55 percent of DC residents were classified as “Black or African American” and 35 percent of its residents were classified as “white.” London, by contrast, has very few minorities—in 2006, 70 percent of its population was “white,” while only 10 percent was “black.” The racial demographic differences between the cities is drastic.

Even though Washington, DC, and London are major capital cities of English-speaking countries in the Western world, they have many differences along with their similarities. They have vastly different histories, art cultures, and racial demographics, but they remain similar in their cost of living and socioeconomic disparity.

How To

After you have decided on a topic, you need ideas–the more the better! It can be useful to map your ideas out.

Suppose I was going to compare the social positions of Subjects to Citizens. They have many differences, but what are the important ones? The place to begin is with thinking of as many a possible. For example:

While I can see many differences, I’ll group them into three categories that I think will be most useful: Government types, Freedoms. and Responsibilities.

Which organization?

Once you have the points of comparison clearly in your mind, you need to decide how to organize your essay. There are two very useful ways: the block-by-block and the point-by-point. Which one you use depends largely on how well-known your topic is.

The sample essay above used the point-by-point organization. Using that structure, my essay would look something like this:


Japan before and after 1947: Life as a Subject and a Citizen

  • Introduction
    • Hook
    • Connecting
    • Thesis: Though the daily lives of ordinary Japanese people immediately before and after 1947 were not visibly much different, the change from subject to citizen was profound.
  • Body 1: Government Types
    • Before 1947
    • After 1947
  • Body 2: Freedoms
    • Japan before 1947
    • Japan after 1947
  • Body 3: Responsibilities
    • Japan before 1947
    • Japan after 1947
  • Conclusion (Sum up the differences and similarities and talk about why this is important.)

While this may work just fine, I would choose to use the block-by-block method since my topic–Life in Japan immediately before and after 1947– is a little bit obscure.


Japan before and after 1947: Life as a Subject and a Citizen

  • Introduction
    • Hook
    • Connection
    • Thesis statement: Though the daily lives of ordinary Japanese people immediately before and after 1947 were not visibly much different, the change from subject to citizen was profound.
  • Body Paragraph 1 Before 1947: “Subjects”
    • Point of Comparison 1: Messy Monarchy
    • Point of Comparison 2: Privileges come from the Emperor
    • Point of Comparison 3: Must follow the Emperor, no matter what.
    • Point of Comparison 3: Messy Monarchy
  • Body Paragraph 2: After 1947: “Citizens”
    • Point of Comparison 1: Messy Democracy
    • Point of Comparison 2: Human Rights
    • Point of Comparison 3: Must follow the laws, should vote
  • Conclusion (Sum up the differences and similarities and talk about why this is important.)

Hooks and Connectors

A fishing hook catches fish. A writing hook catches readers. You should try to start your essay with something interesting or surprising to catch a reader’s attention. This can be questions, quotes, statistics or some other interesting piece of information.

Pro tip: Worry about your hook and its connection to the main topic of your essay after you’ve finished everything else. As with most compositions, the beginning is the last thing you compose.


Step 1: Choose a topic.

Step 2: Brainstorm points of comparison. At first, try to get as many details as possible, then group them into three larger points of comparison.

Step 3: Outline using either block or point style.

Step 4: Write a first draft, print it, and bring it along with your outline, for an individual conference with me next week.

[Schedule an appointment for next week.]

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