How to Write a Comparative Analysis
Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two
things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic"
compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that
have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that
have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different
world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens
through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using
A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for
illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly
understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may
illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about
how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A
and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of
such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a
good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've
observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference.