How to Write a “Compare and Contrast” Essay by Using the Foolproof “Matrix Method”

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Knowing how to structure and write a “compare and contrast” essay is an important advantage for the high school and college students.


“Compare and contrast” actually are not two different procedures. They are two facets of the same analysis; the same process. Comparing is contrasting, and vice versa.

If two entities are very similar in a certain way, very similar along a certain dimension, then the comparison does not count as a contrast.

If, on the other hand, the entities differ considerably along the X or Y or some other dimension, then we perceive such comparison as a “contrast.” That’s why contrasting is also comparing by definition. It’s just a matter of degrees; the degree to which the compared entities are similar to one another or differ.

How to Prepare the Matrix

Prepare for your essay by drawing up a matrix that looks like this:

SUBJECT 1Dimension 1Dimension 2Dimension 3Dimension 4Dimension 5
Dimension 1

C & C

Dimension 2

C & C

Dimension 3

C & C

Dimension 4

C & C

Dimension 5

C & C


For example, let’s say we’d like to compare and contrast WIND POWER with FOSSIL FUEL POWER.

Let’s also say that we’d like to do our “compare and contrast” along the following 5 dimensions:

  1. Cost
  2. Availability
  3. Environmental Impact
  4. Portability
  5. Politics
The edited matrix would look like this:

WIND POWERCostAvailabilityEnvironmental ImpactPortabilityPolitics

C & C


C & C

Environmental Impact

C & C


C & C


C & C

The cells where the same dimensions intersect (those marked as “C & C”) are the primary points of comparison. Other cells require more imagination for comparison since they represent “apples and oranges” kind of pairs.

For example, it makes immediate sense to compare the cost of wind power and fossil fuel. But to compare the cost of wind power with the environmental impact of fossil fuel requires a more involved argument since the argument rests on different attributes, different dimensions.

An Outline

A “compare and contrast” essay of this type would thus have the following outline:

TITLE: Wind Power and Fossil Fuel: Similarities and Contrasts



Wind Power vs. Fossil Fuel


Wind Power vs. Fossil Fuel


Wind Power vs. Fossil Fuel


Wind Power vs. Fossil Fuel


Wind Power vs. Fossil Fuel


Thanks to matrix, we can focus on rather non-obvious comparisons as well but you should decide whether each comparison makes sense on a case-by-case basis.

Each cell, each row-column intersection of the above table is an opportunity for comparison.

For example, how about the cell at the intersection of Fossil Fuel – Cost column and Window Power – Portability row? Would that make a good juicy comparison or should you let it pass? Only you can decide on that.

The more you know about an issue, the deeper you can go into the matrix and come up with a longer list of comparisons.

The beauty of the matrix is it works as an excellent memory device and prevents you from forgetting any row-column comparisons.

Armed with a solid structure like that, you’ll be able to write your compare-and-contrast article with authority and ease.

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