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The Comparative Essay

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What is a comparative essay?

A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare

  • positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
  • theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
  • figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
  • texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth )
  • events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)

Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.

Make sure you know the basis for comparison

The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.

  • Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall . The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
  • Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.

Develop a list of similarities and differences

Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.

For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations , being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall , being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.

The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.

Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences

Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:

While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.

Come up with a structure for your essay

Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.

When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:

  • You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
  • Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
  • You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Political Science

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you to recognize and to follow writing standards in political science. The first step toward accomplishing this goal is to develop a basic understanding of political science and the kind of work political scientists do.

Defining politics and political science

Political scientist Harold Laswell said it best: at its most basic level, politics is the struggle of “who gets what, when, how.” This struggle may be as modest as competing interest groups fighting over control of a small municipal budget or as overwhelming as a military stand-off between international superpowers. Political scientists study such struggles, both small and large, in an effort to develop general principles or theories about the way the world of politics works. Think about the title of your course or re-read the course description in your syllabus. You’ll find that your course covers a particular sector of the large world of “politics” and brings with it a set of topics, issues, and approaches to information that may be helpful to consider as you begin a writing assignment. The diverse structure of political science reflects the diverse kinds of problems the discipline attempts to analyze and explain. In fact, political science includes at least eight major sub-fields:

  • American politics examines political behavior and institutions in the United States.
  • Comparative politics analyzes and compares political systems within and across different geographic regions.
  • International relations investigates relations among nation states and the activities of international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and NATO, as well as international actors such as terrorists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and multi-national corporations (MNCs).
  • Political theory analyzes fundamental political concepts such as power and democracy and foundational questions, like “How should the individual and the state relate?”
  • Political methodology deals with the ways that political scientists ask and investigate questions.
  • Public policy examines the process by which governments make public decisions.
  • Public administration studies the ways that government policies are implemented.
  • Public law focuses on the role of law and courts in the political process.

What is scientific about political science?

Investigating relationships.

Although political scientists are prone to debate and disagreement, the majority view the discipline as a genuine science. As a result, political scientists generally strive to emulate the objectivity as well as the conceptual and methodological rigor typically associated with the so-called “hard” sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry, and physics). They see themselves as engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions. Based on these revelations, they attempt to state general principles about the way the world of politics works. Given these aims, it is important for political scientists’ writing to be conceptually precise, free from bias, and well-substantiated by empirical evidence. Knowing that political scientists value objectivity may help you in making decisions about how to write your paper and what to put in it.

Political theory is an important exception to this empirical approach. You can learn more about writing for political theory classes in the section “Writing in Political Theory” below.

Building theories

Since theory-building serves as the cornerstone of the discipline, it may be useful to see how it works. You may be wrestling with theories or proposing your own as you write your paper. Consider how political scientists have arrived at the theories you are reading and discussing in your course. Most political scientists adhere to a simple model of scientific inquiry when building theories. The key to building precise and persuasive theories is to develop and test hypotheses. Hypotheses are statements that researchers construct for the purpose of testing whether or not a certain relationship exists between two phenomena. To see how political scientists use hypotheses, and to imagine how you might use a hypothesis to develop a thesis for your paper, consider the following example. Suppose that we want to know whether presidential elections are affected by economic conditions. We could formulate this question into the following hypothesis:

“When the national unemployment rate is greater than 7 percent at the time of the election, presidential incumbents are not reelected.”

Collecting data

In the research model designed to test this hypothesis, the dependent variable (the phenomenon that is affected by other variables) would be the reelection of incumbent presidents; the independent variable (the phenomenon that may have some effect on the dependent variable) would be the national unemployment rate. You could test the relationship between the independent and dependent variables by collecting data on unemployment rates and the reelection of incumbent presidents and comparing the two sets of information. If you found that in every instance that the national unemployment rate was greater than 7 percent at the time of a presidential election the incumbent lost, you would have significant support for our hypothesis.

However, research in political science seldom yields immediately conclusive results. In this case, for example, although in most recent presidential elections our hypothesis holds true, President Franklin Roosevelt was reelected in 1936 despite the fact that the national unemployment rate was 17%. To explain this important exception and to make certain that other factors besides high unemployment rates were not primarily responsible for the defeat of incumbent presidents in other election years, you would need to do further research. So you can see how political scientists use the scientific method to build ever more precise and persuasive theories and how you might begin to think about the topics that interest you as you write your paper.

Clear, consistent, objective writing

Since political scientists construct and assess theories in accordance with the principles of the scientific method, writing in the field conveys the rigor, objectivity, and logical consistency that characterize this method. Thus political scientists avoid the use of impressionistic or metaphorical language, or language which appeals primarily to our senses, emotions, or moral beliefs. In other words, rather than persuade you with the elegance of their prose or the moral virtue of their beliefs, political scientists persuade through their command of the facts and their ability to relate those facts to theories that can withstand the test of empirical investigation. In writing of this sort, clarity and concision are at a premium. To achieve such clarity and concision, political scientists precisely define any terms or concepts that are important to the arguments that they make. This precision often requires that they “operationalize” key terms or concepts. “Operationalizing” simply means that important—but possibly vague or abstract—concepts like “justice” are defined in ways that allow them to be measured or tested through scientific investigation.

Fortunately, you will generally not be expected to devise or operationalize key concepts entirely on your own. In most cases, your professor or the authors of assigned readings will already have defined and/or operationalized concepts that are important to your research. And in the event that someone hasn’t already come up with precisely the definition you need, other political scientists will in all likelihood have written enough on the topic that you’re investigating to give you some clear guidance on how to proceed. For this reason, it is always a good idea to explore what research has already been done on your topic before you begin to construct your own argument. See our handout on making an academic argument .

Example of an operationalized term

To give you an example of the kind of rigor and objectivity political scientists aim for in their writing, let’s examine how someone might operationalize a term. Reading through this example should clarify the level of analysis and precision that you will be expected to employ in your writing. Here’s how you might define key concepts in a way that allows us to measure them.

We are all familiar with the term “democracy.” If you were asked to define this term, you might make a statement like the following:

“Democracy is government by the people.”

You would, of course, be correct—democracy is government by the people. But, in order to evaluate whether or not a particular government is fully democratic or is more or less democratic when compared with other governments, we would need to have more precise criteria with which to measure or assess democracy. For example, here are some criteria that political scientists have suggested are indicators of democracy:

  • Freedom to form and join organizations
  • Freedom of expression
  • Right to vote
  • Eligibility for public office
  • Right of political leaders to compete for support
  • Right of political leaders to compete for votes
  • Alternative sources of information
  • Free and fair elections
  • Institutions for making government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference

If we adopt these nine criteria, we now have a definition that will allow us to measure democracy empirically. Thus, if you want to determine whether Brazil is more democratic than Sweden, you can evaluate each country in terms of the degree to which it fulfills the above criteria.

What counts as good writing in political science?

While rigor, clarity, and concision will be valued in any piece of writing in political science, knowing the kind of writing task you’ve been assigned will help you to write a good paper. Two of the most common kinds of writing assignments in political science are the research paper and the theory paper.

Writing political science research papers

Your instructors use research paper assignments as a means of assessing your ability to understand a complex problem in the field, to develop a perspective on this problem, and to make a persuasive argument in favor of your perspective. In order for you to successfully meet this challenge, your research paper should include the following components:

  • An introduction
  • A problem statement
  • A discussion of methodology
  • A literature review
  • A description and evaluation of your research findings
  • A summary of your findings

Here’s a brief description of each component.

In the introduction of your research paper, you need to give the reader some basic background information on your topic that suggests why the question you are investigating is interesting and important. You will also need to provide the reader with a statement of the research problem you are attempting to address and a basic outline of your paper as a whole. The problem statement presents not only the general research problem you will address but also the hypotheses that you will consider. In the methodology section, you will explain to the reader the research methods you used to investigate your research topic and to test the hypotheses that you have formulated. For example, did you conduct interviews, use statistical analysis, rely upon previous research studies, or some combination of all of these methodological approaches?

Before you can develop each of the above components of your research paper, you will need to conduct a literature review. A literature review involves reading and analyzing what other researchers have written on your topic before going on to do research of your own. There are some very pragmatic reasons for doing this work. First, as insightful as your ideas may be, someone else may have had similar ideas and have already done research to test them. By reading what they have written on your topic, you can ensure that you don’t repeat, but rather learn from, work that has already been done. Second, to demonstrate the soundness of your hypotheses and methodology, you will need to indicate how you have borrowed from and/or improved upon the ideas of others.

By referring to what other researchers have found on your topic, you will have established a frame of reference that enables the reader to understand the full significance of your research results. Thus, once you have conducted your literature review, you will be in a position to present your research findings. In presenting these findings, you will need to refer back to your original hypotheses and explain the manner and degree to which your results fit with what you anticipated you would find. If you see strong support for your argument or perhaps some unexpected results that your original hypotheses cannot account for, this section is the place to convey such important information to your reader. This is also the place to suggest further lines of research that will help refine, clarify inconsistencies with, or provide additional support for your hypotheses. Finally, in the summary section of your paper, reiterate the significance of your research and your research findings and speculate upon the path that future research efforts should take.

Writing in political theory

Political theory differs from other subfields in political science in that it deals primarily with historical and normative, rather than empirical, analysis. In other words, political theorists are less concerned with the scientific measurement of political phenomena than with understanding how important political ideas develop over time. And they are less concerned with evaluating how things are than in debating how they should be. A return to our democracy example will make these distinctions clearer and give you some clues about how to write well in political theory.

Earlier, we talked about how to define democracy empirically so that it can be measured and tested in accordance with scientific principles. Political theorists also define democracy, but they use a different standard of measurement. Their definitions of democracy reflect their interest in political ideals—for example, liberty, equality, and citizenship—rather than scientific measurement. So, when writing about democracy from the perspective of a political theorist, you may be asked to make an argument about the proper way to define citizenship in a democratic society. Should citizens of a democratic society be expected to engage in decision-making and administration of government, or should they be satisfied with casting votes every couple of years?

In order to substantiate your position on such questions, you will need to pay special attention to two interrelated components of your writing: (1) the logical consistency of your ideas and (2) the manner in which you use the arguments of other theorists to support your own. First, you need to make sure that your conclusion and all points leading up to it follow from your original premises or assumptions. If, for example, you argue that democracy is a system of government through which citizens develop their full capacities as human beings, then your notion of citizenship will somehow need to support this broad definition of democracy. A narrow view of citizenship based exclusively or primarily on voting probably will not do. Whatever you argue, however, you will need to be sure to demonstrate in your analysis that you have considered the arguments of other theorists who have written about these issues. In some cases, their arguments will provide support for your own; in others, they will raise criticisms and concerns that you will need to address if you are going to make a convincing case for your point of view.

Drafting your paper

If you have used material from outside sources in your paper, be sure to cite them appropriately in your paper. In political science, writers most often use the APA or Turabian (a version of the Chicago Manual of Style) style guides when formatting references. Check with your instructor if they have not specified a citation style in the assignment. For more information on constructing citations, see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial.

Although all assignments are different, the preceding outlines provide a clear and simple guide that should help you in writing papers in any sub-field of political science. If you find that you need more assistance than this short guide provides, refer to the list of additional resources below or make an appointment to see a tutor at the Writing Center.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Becker, Howard S. 2007. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article , 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cuba, Lee. 2002. A Short Guide to Writing About Social Science , 4th ed. New York: Longman.

Lasswell, Harold Dwight. 1936. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How . New York: McGraw-Hill.

Scott, Gregory M., and Stephen M. Garrison. 1998. The Political Science Student Writer’s Manual , 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Turabian, Kate. 2018. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, Dissertations , 9th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Comparative Politics 

Comparative politics is the comparative study of other countries, citizens, different political units either in whole or in part, and analyzes the similarities and differences between those political units. Comparative politics also entails the political study of non-US political thought. Here are a few tips when choosing resources for comparative political research:

  • Use a  subject encyclopedia  to research major comparative political theories and concepts.
  • Use  country profiles  to locate basic information, facts, and statistics about individual countries.
  • Search for research articles in a general article database such as EBSCO Discovery .  
  • Use a subject database such as PAIS to locate political-specific articles.
  • International Encyclopedia of Political Science The International Encyclopedia of Political Science provides a definitive, comprehensive picture of all aspects of political life, recognizing the theoretical and cultural pluralism of our approaches and including findings from the far corners of the world. The eight volumes cover every field of politics, from political theory and methodology to political sociology, comparative politics, public policies, and international relations.
  • The Oxford Companion to Comparative Politics The Oxford Companion to Comparative Politics focuses on the major theories, concepts, and conclusions that define the field, analyzing the similarities and differences between political units. Entries cover such topics as failed states, grand strategies, soft power, capital punishment, gender and politics, and totalitarianism, as well as countries such as China and Afghanistan.

This section includes databases that provide detailed profiles of most countries worldwide. Country profiles include basic country facts and figures such as population, capitol cities and so on. They also provide brief summaries of geography, environment, history, current politics and economics.

  • BBC News Country Profiles Full profiles provide an instant guide to history, politics and economic background of countries and territories, and background on key institutions.They also include audio and video clips from BBC archives.
  • CIA World Factbook Developed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the World Factbook offers updated country profiles providing information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military and transnational issues for 267 world nations. The website provides a comprehensive collection of world maps that can be freely downloaded. Also includes a Guide to Country Comparisons. Categories include, geography, people and society, the economy, communications, transportation and military. Information can be downloaded into data files.

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  • Europa World Yearbook This link opens in a new window Europa World Yearbook provides profiles for over 250 countries and territories. Profiles include political and economic information as well as statistics and information on religion, media and press.
  • Political Risk Yearbook and CountryData This link opens in a new window Political Risk Yearbook provides political risk reports for the current year for many countries. CountryData allows users to generate exportable tables with political risk rankings and economic indicators for current and historical years, as well as current forecasts, for various countries. More information less... Country Data is available on campus only. Use NYU VPN for off-campus access.
  • World Bank Country Profiles Country profiles prepared by World Bank staff are available for 157 nations. Sites provides direct links to the World Bank data catalog for each country along with access to the latest publications, news items, and development topics published by, or related to, World Bank operations.
  • Statesman's Yearbook Online This link opens in a new window The Statesman's Yearbook provides information on international affairs, covering key historical events, population, city profiles, social statistics, climate, recent elections, current leaders, defense, international relations, economy, energy and natural resources, industry, international trade, religion, culture, and diplomatic representatives, as well as fact sheets and more.
  • Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports Country profiles and information documents prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress.

Subject-specific databases provide articles and resources solely within a specific discipline. This section lists the best political science databases providing coverage of scholarly literature across all major political science areas and sub-disciplines including comparative politics.

  • Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) This link opens in a new window Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) is a source for theory and research in international affairs. It includes scholarship, working papers from university research institutes, occasional papers series from NGOs, foundation-funded research projects, proceedings from conferences, books, journals, case studies for teaching, and policy briefs.
  • PAIS International This link opens in a new window PAIS International contains journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, grey literature, research reports, conference reports, publications of international agencies for public affairs, public and social policies, and international relations.
  • Policy File This link opens in a new window Policy FIle offers access to U.S. foreign and domestic policy papers and gray literature, with abstracts and links to timely reports, papers, and documents from think tanks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutes, advocacy groups, agencies, and other entities.
  • ProQuest Political Science This link opens in a new window ProQuest Political Science gives users access to leading political science and international relations journals. This collection provides the full-text of core titles, many of which are indexed in Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. New to ProQuest Political Science are hundreds of recent, full-text, political science dissertations from U.S. and Canadian universities, as well as thousands of current working papers from the Political Science Research Network.
  • Worldwide Political Science Abstracts This link opens in a new window Worldwide Political Science Abstracts provides citations, abstracts, and indexing of the international serials literature in political science and its complementary fields, including international relations, law, and public administration.
  • Comparative Study of Electoral Systems The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) is a collaborative program of cross-national research among election studies conducted in over fifty states.
  • Comparative Political Dataset The "Comparative Political Data Set" (CPDS) is a collection of political and institutional country-level data provided by Prof. Dr. Klaus Armingeon and collaborators at the University of Berne. It consists of annual data for 36 democratic countries for the period of 1960 to 2014 or since their transition to democracy.
  • Eurostat Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, provides statistics at the European level that enable comparisons between countries and regions. Users can bulk download tables and access full metadata and documentation for data that measures indicators across a range of socio-demographic and economic indicators.
  • The Quality of Government (QOG) Institute The QOG Institute at the University of Gothenburg studies good governance and corruption on a global scale. QoG provides a range of datasets available for free, and data visualization tools. QoG Standard Dataset contains the most qualitative variables from the Standard Dataset. The QoG Expert Survey is a dataset based on our survey of experts on public administration around the world, available in an individual dataset and an aggregated dataset covering 107 countries.The QoG OECD dataset covers countries who are members of the OECD. The EU Regional Data consists of 450 variables from Eurostat and other sources, covering three levels of European regions - country, major socio-economic regions and basic regions for the application of regional policies.
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how to write a comparative politics essay

The Ultimate Guide to the AP Comparative Government and Politics Exam

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Planning to take the AP Comparative Government and Politics exam? Whether you took the course or self-studied, here’s everything you need to know about the exam, plus tons of free resources to help you get a great score.

The AP Comparative Government and Politics exam and course has been updated for the 2019-2020 school year, so pay special attention to these changes. You can read more about the changes in this AP Comparative Government updates document released by the College Board .

Note that this post is not about the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam , the more popular of the two “AP Government” exams. Be sure to double-check that you’re looking at the right post for the exam you’re taking.

When is the AP Comparative Government Exam?

On Thursday, May 14 at 8 am, the College Board will hold the 2020 AP Comparative Government Exam. For a comprehensive listing of all the AP exam times, check out our post 2020 AP Exam Schedule: Everything You Need to Know . 

About the AP Comparative Government Exam

The AP Comparative Government and Politics exam focuses on six core countries: China, Great Britain, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia. According to the College Board , this exam measures your “ability to compare and contrast political regimes; electoral systems; federal structures; civil rights; and state responses to economic, social, and religious challenges over time.”

Throughout the AP Comparative course, you’ll learn five key skills, or disciplinary practices as they are called by the College Board, which will help you think and act like comparative political scientists. Possessing and demonstrating these skills is essential to getting a high score on the AP Comparative Government exam. The five key disciplinary practices are: 

1. Concept Application: Applying political concepts and processes to real-life situations.

2. Country Comparison: Compare political concepts and processes to the course’s six core countries.

3. Data Analysis: Analyze and interpret quantitative data represented in a variety of mediums—such as tables, charts, graphs, maps, and infographics. 

4. Source Analysis: Read, analyze, and interpret text-based sources. 

5. Argumentation: Develop and defend an argument in the form of an essay. 

In addition to acquiring these vital skills, students will explore five big ideas that serve as the foundation of the AP Comparative Government course, using them to make connections between concepts throughout the course. The five big ideas are: 

1. Power and Authority: The political systems and regimes governing societies, who is given power and authority, how they use it, and how it produces different policy outcomes.

2. Legitimacy and Stability: The degree a government’s right to rule is accepted by the citizenry and how the legitimacy of a government translates to its ability to enact, implement, and enforce its policies. 

3. Democratization: The process of adopting free and fair elections, extending civil liberties, and establishing the rule of law. How that process generally increases government transparency, improves citizen access, and influences policy making. 

4. Internal/External Forces: How internal and external forces challenge and reinforce regimes.

5. Methods of Political Analysis: Collecting and using data to identify and describe patterns and trends in political behavior, along with using data and ideas from other disciplines when drawing conclusions. 

AP Comparative Government Course Content

The AP Comparative Government course is divided into five units. Below is a suggested sequence of the units from the College Board, along with the percentage each unit accounts for on the multiple-choice section of the AP Comparative Government exam. 

AP Comparative Government Exam Content

The exam lasts 2 hours and 30 minutes. As in the years past, there are two sections to the AP Comparative Government exam: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. However, there are changes to the structure of both sections this year; read below for those changes.

Section 1: Multiple Choice 

1 hour | 55 questions | 50% of score

The multiple-choice section of the AP Comparative Government exam will keep the same number of questions (55) as past tests, but students are now given an extra fifteen minutes to answer them. In addition, the number of possible answers shrink from five to four on the new test. There is also a shift in what you’re tested on, as the exam moves its focus from knowledge about individual countries to understanding of concepts and the ability to compare different concepts and countries.

There are three types of multiple-choice questions you’ll encounter on the AP Comparative Government exam: stand-alone, quantitative analysis, and text-based analysis. 40-44 of the multiple-choice questions are stand-alone questions with no stimulus provided. There are also three sets of 2-3 questions testing your quantitative analysis ability, tasking you with analyzing a quantitative stimulus such as a line graph, chart, table, map, or infographic. Lastly, there are two sets of 2-3 questions focused on text-based analysis in which you’ll need to analyze text-based secondary sources. 

Example of an individual multiple-choice question:

ap comparative government sample question

Example of a quantitative-analysis multiple-choice question:

ap comparative government sample question

Example of a text-based multiple-choice question:

ap comparative government sample question

Section 2: Free Response

1 hour 30 minutes | 4 questions | 50% of score

The structure of the free-response questions has also changed on the 2020 AP Comparative Government exam , with the number of questions shrinking from eight to four. Additionally, the skills tested no longer vary from exam to exam; rather, they’re clearly defined. You’ll receive a question about conceptual analysis, quantitative analysis, and comparative analysis, and will need to write an argument-based essay. 

Conceptual Analysis: Define political systems and explain and/or compare political systems, principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors. 

Quantitative Analysis: Identify trends and patterns or draw conclusions from quantitative data and explain how it relates to political systems, principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors. 

Comparative Analysis: Compare political concepts, systems, institutions, or policies in the AP Comparative Government’s six covered countries.

Argument Essay: Write an argument-based essay supported by evidence, based on concepts from the countries covered in the course.

Example of a conceptual-analysis question:

ap comparative government sample question

Example of a quantitative-analysis question: 

ap comparative government sample question

Example of a comparative-analysis question: 

ap comparative government sample question

Example of an argument-based question:

AP Comparative Government Score Distribution, Average Score, and Passing Rate

According to the College Board in 2019, a relatively high percentage of students (22.4%) scored a 5. About one-third of test takers (66%) received a “passing” score of 3 or above on the AP Comparative Government exam. Here are the score distributions of all the AP exams if you’re interested in comparing the AP Comparative Gov scores to those of other exams. 

Keep in mind, credit and advanced standing based on AP scores varies widely from school to school. Though a score of 3 is typically considered passing, it is not always enough to receive credit. See the College Board website for regulations regarding which APs qualify for course credits or advanced placement at specific colleges.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Best Ways to Study for the AP Comparative Government Exam

Step 1: assess your skills.

The best way to begin studying for any exam is to determine the areas you understand well and the areas you need to work on.

Start by taking a free practice test —this test is structured in the old format, but is still a helpful resource that can give you some hands-on experience with the upcoming test. You can score your own multiple-choice section and free responses, then you can have a teacher or friend score your free responses and average the scores, since this area is often more subjective. Once you have an actual score to work with, identify the areas you need to improve in when you take the actual test.

Step 2: Study the Theory

Crack open some study guides and start to solidify your understanding of the theory taught in this course.

Ask the Experts: The Barron’s AP Comparative Government and Politics: With 3 Practice Tests offers comprehensive reviews of this course and the material that might show up on the exam, along with three practice tests. Another good resource is the AP Comparative Government and Politics 2019 & 2020 Study Guide .

Ask a Teacher: There are also online study resources available to help you. Many AP teachers post complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions—such as this AP Comparative Government page from Mr. Baysdell from Davison High School in Davison, Michigan. Just be careful, as some resources may be outdated. 

Try using an app: Apps are a convenient way to study for AP Exams—just make sure you read the reviews before you purchase or download one. You don’t want to end up spending money or time on an app that won’t actually be helpful to you. The AP Comparative Gov. & Politics app is decently well-reviewed and offers two study modes: flashcards and practice tests. 

Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions

Because of the AP Comparative Government exam’s reformatting and shifting of focus this year, finding up-to-date multiple-choice questions to practice is challenging. A handful of sample multiple-choice questions are found in the AP Comparative Government Course and Exam Description . You’ll also find a free AP Comparative Government practice exam on Study.com .

When practicing multiple-choice questions, focus on trying to understand what each question is really asking—what skills or themes does the question tie into? In what way do the test makers want you to demonstrate your understanding of the subject material? Make sure to keep a running list of any unfamiliar concepts so that you can go back later and clarify them.

Step 4: Practice Free-Response Questions

There are four different types of free-response questions: conceptual analysis, quantitative analysis, comparative analysis, and an argument-based essay. Although the free-response questions have changed for 2020, it’s still beneficial to familiarize yourself with past free-response questions. You can find all of the free-response questions that have appeared on the AP Comparative Government exam, along with commentary, dating back to 1999 on the College Board’s website. 

It’s important to keep the task verbs in mind for each question of this section. Make sure you understand what each question is asking you to do. These verbs commonly include “identify,” “define,” “describe,” “explain,” “provide one reason,” etc.

It may help you to underline each section of the question and check them off as you write. Students often lose points by forgetting to include one part of a multipart question. If a question asks you to identify and describe, make sure you do both. It is also a good idea to use the task verbs in your answer. If you are asked to “give a specific example,” start your part of the answer that addresses this question with “One specific example of this is…”

Step 5: Take Another Practice Exam

After you’ve practiced the multiple-choice and free-response questions, you should take another practice exam. Score the exam the same way as before, and repeat the studying process targeting areas that are still weak.

Step 6: Exam Day

If you’re taking the AP course associated with this exam, your teacher will walk you through how to register. If you’re self-studying, check out our blog post How to Self-Register for AP Exams .

For information about what to bring to the exam, see our post What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

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For more guidance about the AP exams, check out these other informative articles: 

2020 AP Exam Schedule

How Long is Each AP Exam?

Easiest and Hardest AP Exams

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how to write a comparative politics essay

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How to Write a Comparison Essay

  • Introduction
  • Essay Outline
  • Expressions For Comparison Essays
  • Sample Comparison 1
  • Sample Comparison 2
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A comparison essay compares and contrasts two things. That is, it points out the similarities and differences (mostly focusing on the differences) of those two things. The two things usually belong to the same class (ex. two cities, two politicians, two sports, etc.). Relatively equal attention is given to the two subjects being compared. The essay may treat the two things objectively and impartially. Or it may be partial, favoring one thing over the other (ex. "American football is a sissy's game compared to rugby").

The important thing in any comparison essay is that the criteria for comparison should remain the same; that is,  the same attributes should be compared . For example, if you are comparing an electric bulb lamp with a gas lamp, compare them both according to their physical characteristics, their history of development, and their operation.

Narrow Your Focus (in this essay, as in any essay). For example, if you compare two religions, focus on  one  particular aspect which you can discuss in depth and detail, e.g., sin in Buddhism vs. sin in Christianity, or salvation in two religions. Or if your topic is political, you might compare the Conservative attitude to old growth logging vs. the Green Party's attitude to old growth logging, or the Conservative attitude to the Persian Gulf War vs. the NDP attitude to the same war.

Each paragraph should deal with only  one idea  and deal with it  thoroughly . Give  adequate explanation  and  specific examples  to support each idea. The first paragraph introduces the topic, captures the reader's attention, and provides a definite summary of the essay. It may be wise to end the first paragraph with a thesis statement that summarizes the main points of difference (or similarity). For example, "Submarines and warships differ not only in construction, but in their style of weapons and method of attack." This gives the reader a brief outline of your essay, allowing him to anticipate what's to come. Each middle paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that summarizes the main idea of that paragraph (ex. "The musical styles of Van Halen and Steely Dan are as differing in texture as are broken glass and clear water"). An opening sentence like this that uses a  metaphor  or  simile  not only summarizes the paragraph but captures the reader's attention, making him want to read on. Avoid a topic sentence that is too dull and too broad (ex. "There are many differences in the musical styles of Van Halen and Steely Dan").

VARY THE STRUCTURE

The  structure  of the comparison essay may vary. You may use  simultaneous comparison structure  in which the two things are compared together, feature by feature, point by point. For example, "The electric light bulb lasts 80 hours, while the gas lamp lasts only 20 hours . . . ." Or as in this example (comparing two American presidents):

Consider how perfectly Harding met the requirements for president. Wilson was a visionary who liked to identify himself with "forward-looking men"; Harding was as old-fashioned as those wooden Indians which used to stand in front of cigar stores, "a flower of the period before safety razors." Harding believed that statemanship had come to its apogee in the days of McKinley and Foraker. Wilson was cold. Harding was an affable small-town man, at ease with "folks"; he was an ideal companion to play poker with all Saturday night. Wilson had always been difficult of access; Harding was accessible to the last degree. etc.

Don't use simultaneous structure all the way through the essay, however. It becomes monotonous. Use it sparingly. For most of the essay, use  parallel order structure .

In  parallel order structure  you compare the two things separately but take up the same points in the same order. For example, you may spend half a paragraph on "thing A" and the other half of the paragraph on the corresponding characteristics of "thing B." Or, if you have enough material, devote one paragraph to the physical characteristics of an electric bulb lamp, and the next paragraph to the physical characteristics of the gas lamp.

Or say everything there is to say about the electric bulb lamp (its physical characteristics, history of development and operation), followed by everything there is to say about the gas lamp.

For the sake of variety  you may switch to simultaneous comparison at one point  in the essay, and then switch back to parallel order structure for the rest of the essay. In fact, there are many ways to structure a comparison essay; use whichever organization works best for your particular paper. Here are a few sample organizational methods. "A" stands for "thing A" (ex. electric lamp) and "B" stands for "thing B" (ex. gas lamp). Each number (1,2,3, etc.) stands for a different aspect of that thing (ex. physical characteristics, operation, history of development).

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How to Write a Comparative Essay

Last Updated: May 19, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,680,649 times.

Perhaps you have been assigned a comparative essay in class, or need to write a comprehensive comparative report for work. In order to write a stellar comparative essay, you have to start off by picking two subjects that have enough similarities and differences to be compared in a meaningful way, such as two sports teams or two systems of government. Once you have that, then you have to find at least two or three points of comparison and use research, facts, and well-organized paragraphs to impress and captivate your readers. Writing the comparative essay is an important skill that you will use many times throughout your scholastic career.

Comparative Essay Outline and Example

how to write a comparative politics essay

How to Develop the Essay Content

Step 1 Analyze the question or essay prompt carefully.

  • Many comparative essay assignments will signal their purpose by using words such as "compare," "contrast," "similarities," and "differences" in the language of the prompt.
  • Also see whether there are any limits placed on your topic.

Step 2 Understand the type of comparison essay you are being asked to write.

  • The assignment will generally ask guiding questions if you are expected to incorporate comparison as part of a larger assignment. For example: "Choose a particular idea or theme, such as love, beauty, death, or time, and consider how two different Renaissance poets approach this idea." This sentence asks you to compare two poets, but it also asks how the poets approach the point of comparison. In other words, you will need to make an evaluative or analytical argument about those approaches.
  • If you're unclear on what the essay prompt is asking you to do, talk with your instructor. It's much better to clarify questions up front than discover you've written the entire essay incorrectly.

Step 3 List similarities and differences between the items you are comparing.

  • The best place to start is to write a list of things that the items you are comparing have in common as well as differences between them. [3] X Research source

Step 4 Evaluate your list to find your argument.

  • You may want to develop a system such as highlighting different types of similarities in different colors, or use different colours if you are using an electronic device.
  • For example, if you are comparing two novels, you may want to highlight similarities in characters in pink, settings in blue, and themes or messages in green.

Step 5 Establish the basis for your comparison.

  • The basis for your comparison may be assigned to you. Be sure to check your assignment or prompt.
  • A basis for comparison may have to do with a theme, characteristics, or details about two different things. [7] X Research source
  • A basis for comparison may also be known as the “grounds” for comparison or a frame of reference.
  • Keep in mind that comparing 2 things that are too similar makes it hard to write an effective paper. The goal of a comparison paper is to draw interesting parallels and help the reader realize something interesting about our world. This means your subjects must be different enough to make your argument interesting.

Step 6 Research your subjects of comparison.

  • Research may not be required or appropriate for your particular assignment. If your comparative essay is not meant to include research, you should avoid including it.
  • A comparative essay about historical events, social issues, or science-related topics are more likely to require research, while a comparison of two works of literature are less likely to require research.
  • Be sure to cite any research data properly according to the discipline in which you are writing (eg, MLA, APA, or Chicago format).

Step 7 Develop a thesis statement.

  • Your thesis needs to make a claim about your subjects that you will then defend in your essay. It's good for this claim to be a bit controversial or up for interpretation, as this allows you to build a good argument.

How to Organize the Content

Step 1 Outline your comparison.

  • Use a traditional outline form if you would like to, but even a simple list of bulleted points in the order that you plan to present them would help.
  • You can also write down your main points on sticky notes (or type them, print them, and then cut them out) so that you can arrange and rearrange them before deciding on a final order.

Step 2 Use a mixed paragraphs method.

  • The advantages of this structure are that it continually keeps the comparison in the mind of the reader and forces you, the writer, to pay equal attention to each side of the argument.
  • This method is especially recommended for lengthy essays or complicated subjects where both the writer and reader can easily become lost. For Example: Paragraph 1: Engine power of vehicle X / Engine power of vehicle Y Paragraph 2: Stylishness of vehicle X / Stylishness of vehicle Y Paragraph 3: Safety rating of vehicle X / Safety rating of vehicle Y

Step 3 Alternate the subjects in each paragraph.

  • The advantages of this structure are that it allows you to discuss points in greater detail and makes it less jarring to tackle two topics that radically different.
  • This method is especially recommended for essays where some depth and detail are required. For example: Paragraph 1: Engine power of vehicle X Paragraph 2: Engine power of vehicle Y Paragraph 3: Stylishness of vehicle X Paragraph 4: Stylishness of vehicle Y Paragraph 5: Safety rating of vehicle X Paragraph 6: Safety rating of vehicle Y

Step 4 Cover one subject at a time thoroughly.

  • This method is by far the most dangerous, as your comparison can become both one-sided and difficult for the reader to follow.
  • This method is only recommended for short essays with simplistic subjects that the reader can easily remember as (s)he goes along. For example: Paragraph 1: Engine power of vehicle X Paragraph 2: Stylishness of vehicle X Paragraph 3: Safety rating of vehicle X Paragraph 4: Engine power of vehicle Y Paragraph 5: Stylishness of vehicle Y Paragraph 6: Safety rating of vehicle Y

How to Write the Essay

Step 1 Write your essay out of order.

  • Body paragraphs first . Work through all that information you've been compiling and see what kind of story it tells you. Only when you've worked with your data will you know what the larger point of the paper is.
  • Conclusion second . Now that you've done all the heavy lifting, the point of your essay should be fresh in your mind. Strike while the iron’s hot. Start your conclusion with a restatement of your thesis.
  • Intro last . Open your introduction with a "hook" to grab the reader's attention. Since you've already written your essay, choose a hook that reflects what you will talk about, whether it's a quote, statistic, factoid, rhetorical question, or anecdote. Then, write 1-2 sentences about your topic, narrowing down to your thesis statement, which completes your introduction.

Step 2 Write the body paragraphs.

  • Organize your paragraphs using one of the approaches listed in the "Organizing the Content" part below. Once you have defined your points of comparison, choose the structure for the body paragraphs (where your comparisons go) that makes the most sense for your data. To work out all the organizational kinks, it’s recommended that you write an outline as a placeholder.
  • Be very careful not to address different aspects of each subject. Comparing the color of one thing to the size of another does nothing to help the reader understand how they stack up. [15] X Research source

Step 3 Write the conclusion...

  • Be aware that your various comparisons won’t necessarily lend themselves to an obvious conclusion, especially because people value things differently. If necessary, make the parameters of your argument more specific. (Ex. “Though X is more stylish and powerful, Y’s top safety ratings make it a more appropriate family vehicle .”)
  • When you have two radically different topics, it sometimes helps to point out one similarity they have before concluding. (i.e. "Although X and Y don't seem to have anything in common, in actuality, they both ....”)

Step 4 Write the introduction...

  • Even the best writers know editing is important to produce a good piece. Your essay will not be your best effort unless you revise it.
  • If possible, find a friend to look over the essay, as he or she may find problems that you missed.
  • It sometimes helps to increase or decrease the font size while editing to change the visual layout of the paper. Looking at the same thing for too long makes your brain fill in what it expects instead of what it sees, leaving you more likely to overlook errors.

Expert Q&A

Christopher Taylor, PhD

  • The title and introduction really catch the reader's attention and make them read the essay. Make sure you know how to write a catchy essay title . Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 1
  • Quotes should be used sparingly and must thoroughly complement the point they are being used to exemplify/justify. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 2
  • The key principle to remember in a comparative paragraph or essay is that you must clarify precisely what you are comparing and keep that comparison alive throughout the essay. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 2

how to write a comparative politics essay

  • Avoid vague language such as "people," "stuff," "things," etc. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
  • Avoid, at all costs, the conclusion that the two subjects are "similar, yet different." This commonly found conclusion weakens any comparative essay, because it essentially says nothing about the comparison. Most things are "similar, yet different" in some way. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
  • Some believe that an "unbalanced" comparison - that is, when the essay focuses predominantly on one of the two issues, and gives less importance to the other - is weaker, and that writers should strive for 50/50 treatment of the texts or issues being examined. Others, however, value emphasis in the essay that reflects the particular demands of the essay's purpose or thesis. One text may simply provide context, or historical/artistic/political reference for the main text, and therefore need not occupy half of the essay's discussion or analysis. A "weak" essay in this context would strive to treat unequal texts equally, rather than strive to appropriately apportion space to the relevant text. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0
  • Beware of the "Frying Pan Conclusion" in which you simply recount everything that was said in the main body of the essay. While your conclusion should include a simple summary of your argument, it should also emphatically state the point in a new and convincing way, one which the reader will remember clearly. If you can see a way forward from a problem or dilemma, include that as well. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 1

You Might Also Like

Write an Essay

  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
  • ↑ http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/comparative-essay
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/comparing-and-contrasting/
  • ↑ http://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/how-write-comparative-analysis
  • ↑ https://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/style_purpose_strategy/compare_contrast.html
  • ↑ https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/10-7-comparison-and-contrast/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html
  • How to Structure Paragraphs in an Essay

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To write a comparative essay, start by writing an introduction that introduces the 2 subjects you'll be comparing. You should also include your thesis statement in the introduction, which should state what you've concluded based on your comparisons. Next, write the body of your essay so that each paragraph focuses on one point of comparison between your subjects. Finally, write a conclusion that summarizes your main points and draws a larger conclusion about the two things you compared. To learn how to do research for your essay, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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  • Comparative Analysis

What It Is and Why It's Useful

Comparative analysis asks writers to make an argument about the relationship between two or more texts. Beyond that, there's a lot of variation, but three overarching kinds of comparative analysis stand out:

  • Coordinate (A ↔ B): In this kind of analysis, two (or more) texts are being read against each other in terms of a shared element, e.g., a memoir and a novel, both by Jesmyn Ward; two sets of data for the same experiment; a few op-ed responses to the same event; two YA books written in Chicago in the 2000s; a film adaption of a play; etc. 
  • Subordinate (A  → B) or (B → A ): Using a theoretical text (as a "lens") to explain a case study or work of art (e.g., how Anthony Jack's The Privileged Poor can help explain divergent experiences among students at elite four-year private colleges who are coming from similar socio-economic backgrounds) or using a work of art or case study (i.e., as a "test" of) a theory's usefulness or limitations (e.g., using coverage of recent incidents of gun violence or legislation un the U.S. to confirm or question the currency of Carol Anderson's The Second ).
  • Hybrid [A  → (B ↔ C)] or [(B ↔ C) → A] , i.e., using coordinate and subordinate analysis together. For example, using Jack to compare or contrast the experiences of students at elite four-year institutions with students at state universities and/or community colleges; or looking at gun culture in other countries and/or other timeframes to contextualize or generalize Anderson's main points about the role of the Second Amendment in U.S. history.

"In the wild," these three kinds of comparative analysis represent increasingly complex—and scholarly—modes of comparison. Students can of course compare two poems in terms of imagery or two data sets in terms of methods, but in each case the analysis will eventually be richer if the students have had a chance to encounter other people's ideas about how imagery or methods work. At that point, we're getting into a hybrid kind of reading (or even into research essays), especially if we start introducing different approaches to imagery or methods that are themselves being compared along with a couple (or few) poems or data sets.

Why It's Useful

In the context of a particular course, each kind of comparative analysis has its place and can be a useful step up from single-source analysis. Intellectually, comparative analysis helps overcome the "n of 1" problem that can face single-source analysis. That is, a writer drawing broad conclusions about the influence of the Iranian New Wave based on one film is relying entirely—and almost certainly too much—on that film to support those findings. In the context of even just one more film, though, the analysis is suddenly more likely to arrive at one of the best features of any comparative approach: both films will be more richly experienced than they would have been in isolation, and the themes or questions in terms of which they're being explored (here the general question of the influence of the Iranian New Wave) will arrive at conclusions that are less at-risk of oversimplification.

For scholars working in comparative fields or through comparative approaches, these features of comparative analysis animate their work. To borrow from a stock example in Western epistemology, our concept of "green" isn't based on a single encounter with something we intuit or are told is "green." Not at all. Our concept of "green" is derived from a complex set of experiences of what others say is green or what's labeled green or what seems to be something that's neither blue nor yellow but kind of both, etc. Comparative analysis essays offer us the chance to engage with that process—even if only enough to help us see where a more in-depth exploration with a higher and/or more diverse "n" might lead—and in that sense, from the standpoint of the subject matter students are exploring through writing as well the complexity of the genre of writing they're using to explore it—comparative analysis forms a bridge of sorts between single-source analysis and research essays.

Typical learning objectives for single-sources essays: formulate analytical questions and an arguable thesis, establish stakes of an argument, summarize sources accurately, choose evidence effectively, analyze evidence effectively, define key terms, organize argument logically, acknowledge and respond to counterargument, cite sources properly, and present ideas in clear prose.

Common types of comparative analysis essays and related types: two works in the same genre, two works from the same period (but in different places or in different cultures), a work adapted into a different genre or medium, two theories treating the same topic; a theory and a case study or other object, etc.

How to Teach It: Framing + Practice

Framing multi-source writing assignments (comparative analysis, research essays, multi-modal projects) is likely to overlap a great deal with "Why It's Useful" (see above), because the range of reasons why we might use these kinds of writing in academic or non-academic settings is itself the reason why they so often appear later in courses. In many courses, they're the best vehicles for exploring the complex questions that arise once we've been introduced to the course's main themes, core content, leading protagonists, and central debates.

For comparative analysis in particular, it's helpful to frame assignment's process and how it will help students successfully navigate the challenges and pitfalls presented by the genre. Ideally, this will mean students have time to identify what each text seems to be doing, take note of apparent points of connection between different texts, and start to imagine how those points of connection (or the absence thereof)

  • complicates or upends their own expectations or assumptions about the texts
  • complicates or refutes the expectations or assumptions about the texts presented by a scholar
  • confirms and/or nuances expectations and assumptions they themselves hold or scholars have presented
  • presents entirely unforeseen ways of understanding the texts

—and all with implications for the texts themselves or for the axes along which the comparative analysis took place. If students know that this is where their ideas will be heading, they'll be ready to develop those ideas and engage with the challenges that comparative analysis presents in terms of structure (See "Tips" and "Common Pitfalls" below for more on these elements of framing).

Like single-source analyses, comparative essays have several moving parts, and giving students practice here means adapting the sample sequence laid out at the " Formative Writing Assignments " page. Three areas that have already been mentioned above are worth noting:

  • Gathering evidence : Depending on what your assignment is asking students to compare (or in terms of what), students will benefit greatly from structured opportunities to create inventories or data sets of the motifs, examples, trajectories, etc., shared (or not shared) by the texts they'll be comparing. See the sample exercises below for a basic example of what this might look like.
  • Why it Matters: Moving beyond "x is like y but also different" or even "x is more like y than we might think at first" is what moves an essay from being "compare/contrast" to being a comparative analysis . It's also a move that can be hard to make and that will often evolve over the course of an assignment. A great way to get feedback from students about where they're at on this front? Ask them to start considering early on why their argument "matters" to different kinds of imagined audiences (while they're just gathering evidence) and again as they develop their thesis and again as they're drafting their essays. ( Cover letters , for example, are a great place to ask writers to imagine how a reader might be affected by reading an their argument.)
  • Structure: Having two texts on stage at the same time can suddenly feel a lot more complicated for any writer who's used to having just one at a time. Giving students a sense of what the most common patterns (AAA / BBB, ABABAB, etc.) are likely to be can help them imagine, even if provisionally, how their argument might unfold over a series of pages. See "Tips" and "Common Pitfalls" below for more information on this front.

Sample Exercises and Links to Other Resources

  • Common Pitfalls
  • Advice on Timing
  • Try to keep students from thinking of a proposed thesis as a commitment. Instead, help them see it as more of a hypothesis that has emerged out of readings and discussion and analytical questions and that they'll now test through an experiment, namely, writing their essay. When students see writing as part of the process of inquiry—rather than just the result—and when that process is committed to acknowledging and adapting itself to evidence, it makes writing assignments more scientific, more ethical, and more authentic. 
  • Have students create an inventory of touch points between the two texts early in the process.
  • Ask students to make the case—early on and at points throughout the process—for the significance of the claim they're making about the relationship between the texts they're comparing.
  • For coordinate kinds of comparative analysis, a common pitfall is tied to thesis and evidence. Basically, it's a thesis that tells the reader that there are "similarities and differences" between two texts, without telling the reader why it matters that these two texts have or don't have these particular features in common. This kind of thesis is stuck at the level of description or positivism, and it's not uncommon when a writer is grappling with the complexity that can in fact accompany the "taking inventory" stage of comparative analysis. The solution is to make the "taking inventory" stage part of the process of the assignment. When this stage comes before students have formulated a thesis, that formulation is then able to emerge out of a comparative data set, rather than the data set emerging in terms of their thesis (which can lead to confirmation bias, or frequency illusion, or—just for the sake of streamlining the process of gathering evidence—cherry picking). 
  • For subordinate kinds of comparative analysis , a common pitfall is tied to how much weight is given to each source. Having students apply a theory (in a "lens" essay) or weigh the pros and cons of a theory against case studies (in a "test a theory") essay can be a great way to help them explore the assumptions, implications, and real-world usefulness of theoretical approaches. The pitfall of these approaches is that they can quickly lead to the same biases we saw here above. Making sure that students know they should engage with counterevidence and counterargument, and that "lens" / "test a theory" approaches often balance each other out in any real-world application of theory is a good way to get out in front of this pitfall.
  • For any kind of comparative analysis, a common pitfall is structure. Every comparative analysis asks writers to move back and forth between texts, and that can pose a number of challenges, including: what pattern the back and forth should follow and how to use transitions and other signposting to make sure readers can follow the overarching argument as the back and forth is taking place. Here's some advice from an experienced writing instructor to students about how to think about these considerations:

a quick note on STRUCTURE

     Most of us have encountered the question of whether to adopt what we might term the “A→A→A→B→B→B” structure or the “A→B→A→B→A→B” structure.  Do we make all of our points about text A before moving on to text B?  Or do we go back and forth between A and B as the essay proceeds?  As always, the answers to our questions about structure depend on our goals in the essay as a whole.  In a “similarities in spite of differences” essay, for instance, readers will need to encounter the differences between A and B before we offer them the similarities (A d →B d →A s →B s ).  If, rather than subordinating differences to similarities you are subordinating text A to text B (using A as a point of comparison that reveals B’s originality, say), you may be well served by the “A→A→A→B→B→B” structure.  

     Ultimately, you need to ask yourself how many “A→B” moves you have in you.  Is each one identical?  If so, you may wish to make the transition from A to B only once (“A→A→A→B→B→B”), because if each “A→B” move is identical, the “A→B→A→B→A→B” structure will appear to involve nothing more than directionless oscillation and repetition.  If each is increasingly complex, however—if each AB pair yields a new and progressively more complex idea about your subject—you may be well served by the “A→B→A→B→A→B” structure, because in this case it will be visible to readers as a progressively developing argument.

As we discussed in "Advice on Timing" at the page on single-source analysis, that timeline itself roughly follows the "Sample Sequence of Formative Assignments for a 'Typical' Essay" outlined under " Formative Writing Assignments, " and it spans about 5–6 steps or 2–4 weeks. 

Comparative analysis assignments have a lot of the same DNA as single-source essays, but they potentially bring more reading into play and ask students to engage in more complicated acts of analysis and synthesis during the drafting stages. With that in mind, closer to 4 weeks is probably a good baseline for many single-source analysis assignments. For sections that meet once per week, the timeline will either probably need to expand—ideally—a little past the 4-week side of things, or some of the steps will need to be combined or done asynchronously.

What It Can Build Up To

Comparative analyses can build up to other kinds of writing in a number of ways. For example:

  • They can build toward other kinds of comparative analysis, e.g., student can be asked to choose an additional source to complicate their conclusions from a previous analysis, or they can be asked to revisit an analysis using a different axis of comparison, such as race instead of class. (These approaches are akin to moving from a coordinate or subordinate analysis to more of a hybrid approach.)
  • They can scaffold up to research essays, which in many instances are an extension of a "hybrid comparative analysis."
  • Like single-source analysis, in a course where students will take a "deep dive" into a source or topic for their capstone, they can allow students to "try on" a theoretical approach or genre or time period to see if it's indeed something they want to research more fully.
  • DIY Guides for Analytical Writing Assignments

For Teaching Fellows & Teaching Assistants

  • Types of Assignments
  • Unpacking the Elements of Writing Prompts
  • Formative Writing Assignments
  • Single-Source Analysis
  • Research Essays
  • Multi-Modal or Creative Projects
  • Giving Feedback to Students

Assignment Decoder

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6 Chapter 8: Comparative Politics

Comparative politics centers its inquiry into politics around a method, not a particular object of study. This makes it unique since all the other subfields are orientated around a subject or focus of study. The comparative method is one of four main methodological approaches in the sciences (the others being statistical method, experimental method, and case study method). The method involves analyzing the relationship between variables that are different or similar to one another. Comparative politics commonly uses this comparative method on two or more countries and evaluating a specific variable across these countries, such as a political structure, institution, behavior, or policy. For example, you may be interested in what form of representative democracy best brings about consensus in government. You may compare majoritarian and proportional representation systems, such as the United States and Sweden, and evaluate the degree to which consensus develops in these governments. Conversely, you may take two proportional systems, such as Sweden and the United Kingdom, and evaluate whether there is any difference in consensus-building among similar forms of representative government. Although comparative politics often makes comparisons across countries, it can also conduct comparative analysis within one country, looking at different governments or political phenomena through time.

The comparative method is important to political science because the other main scientific methodologies are more difficult to employ. Experiments are very difficult to conduct in political science—there simply is not the level of recurrence and exactitude in politics as there is in the natural world. The statistical method is used more often in political science but requires mathematical manipulation of quantitative data over a large number of cases. The higher the number of cases (the letter N is used to denote number of cases), the stronger your inferences from the data. For a smaller number of cases, like countries, of which there is a limited number, the comparative method may be superior to statistical methodology. In short, the comparative method is useful to the study of politics in smaller cases that require comparative analysis between variables.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Most Similar Systems Design (MSSD)

This strategy is predicated on comparing very similar cases which differ in their dependent variable. In other words, two systems or processes are producing very different outcomes—why? The assumption here is that comparing similar cases that bring about different outcomes will make it easier for the researcher to control factors that are not the causal agent and isolate the independent variable that explains the presence or absence of the dependent variable. A benefit of this strategy is that it keeps confusing or irrelevant variables out of the mix by identifying two similar cases at the outset. Two similar cases implied a number of control variables—elements that make the cases similar—and very few elements that are dissimilar. Among those dissimilar elements is likely your independent variable that produced the presence/absence of your dependent variable. A downside to this approach is that when comparing across countries, it can be difficult to find similar cases due to a limited number of them. There can be a more strict or loose application of the MSSD model—similarities may be fairly exact or roughly the same, depending on the characteristic involved, and will influence your research project accordingly.

Example 8.1

Suppose you want to study how well forms of representative government develop consensus and agreement over policy matters. You may observe that nearly identical representative systems of government exist in County A and Country B, but are producing very different results.

  • Country A has a proportional representation system and has a long and successful track record of producing consensus among lawmakers over a number of policy issues.
  • Country B, however, is riddled with partisan disagreement and a lack of consensus over a similar kind and number of policy issues.

In this instance, you may also observe a number of similarities that act as control variables in your research—both countries have a bicameral legislature, a similar number of representatives per capita. This is a research project well suited to the MSSD approach, as it allows multiple control points (proportional representation, bicameral legislature, number of representatives, etc.) and allows for the researcher to focus on fine grain points of difference among the cases. You may observe in this example one intriguing difference in demographics—County A’s population is smaller and largely homogenous, whereas Country B’s population is larger and more diverse. It may be that in Country B this diverse population is well represented in the legislature but leads to more policy disputes and a relative lack of consensus when compared to Country A.

Most Different Systems Design (MDSD)

This strategy is predicated on comparing very different cases that are all have the same dependent variable. This strategy allows the research to identify a point of similarity between otherwise different cases and thus identify the independent variable that is causing the outcome. In other words, the cases we observe may have very different variables between them yet we can identify the same outcome happening—why do we have different systems producing the same outcome? The task is to then sift through the variables existing between the cases and isolate those that are in fact similar, since a similar variable between the cases may in fact be the causal agent that is producing the same outcome. An advantage to the MDSD approach is that it doesn’t have as many variables that need to be analyzed as the MSSD approach does—a researcher only needs to identify the same variable that exists across all different cases. The MSSD approach, on the other hand, tends to have a lot more variables that have to be considered although it may provide a more precise link between the independent and dependent variables.

Example 8.2

Let’s use an example that will help illustrate the MDSD approach. Suppose you observe two very different forms of representative government producing the same outcome: Country A has a majoritarian, winner-take-all representational system and Country B has a proportional representation system, yet in both countries there is a high degree of efficiency and consensus in the legislative process.

Why do two systems have the same outcome?

You may list a number of variables and compare them across the two cases, sifting through to locate similar variables. Unlike the MSSD approach, which seeks to locate different variables across similar cases, the MDSD approach is the opposite—the task is to locate similar variables across different cases. You may observe that despite the fact that these two countries have very different systems of representation, both have unicameral legislatures and a low number of representatives per capita. These factors may produce higher levels of efficiency and consensus in the legislative process, thus explaining the same dependent variable despite different cases.

The Nation-State

Much of comparative politics focuses on comparisons across countries, so it is necessary to examine the basic unit of comparative politics research—the nation-state.

A nation is a group of people bound together by a similar culture, language, and common descent, whereas a state is a political sovereign entity with geographic boundaries and a system of government. A nation-state, in an ideal sense, is when the boundaries of a national community are the same as the boundaries of a political entity. In this sense, we may say that a nation-state is a country in which the majority of its citizens share the same culture and reflect this shared identity in a sovereign political entity located somewhere in the world. Nation-states are therefore countries with a predominant ethnic group that articulates a culturally and politically shared identity. As should be apparent, this definition has some gray areas—culture is fluid and changes over time; migration patterns can change the make up of a nation-state and thus influence cultural and political changes; minority populations may substantially contribute to the characteristics that make up a shared national identity, and so on.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Nations may include a diaspora or population of people that live outside the nation-state. Some nations do not have states. The Kurdish nation is an example of a distinct ethnic group that lacks a state—the Kurds live in a region that straddles the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Some other examples of nations without states include the numerous indigenous nations of the Americas, the Catalan and Basque nations in Spain, the Palestinian people in the Middle East, the Tibetan and Uyghur people in China, the Yoruba people of West Africa, and the Assamese people in India. Some previously stateless nations have since attained statehood—the former Yugoslav republics, East Timor, and South Sudan are somewhat recent examples. Not all stateless nations seek their own state, but many if not most have some kind of movement for greater autonomy if not independence. Some autonomous of breakaway regions are nations that have by force exercised autonomy from another country that claims that region. There are many such regions in the former Soviet Union: Abkhazia and South Ossetia (breakaway regions from Georgia), Transdniestria (breakaway region from Moldovia), Nagorno-Karabagh (breakaway region from Azerbaijan), and the recent self-declared autonomous provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Ukraine. Most of these movements for autonomy are actively supported by Russia in an effort to control their sphere of influence. Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Trandniestrians, and residents of Luhansk and Donetsk can apply for Russian passports.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Lastly, some countries are not nation-states either because they do not possess a predominate ethnic majority or have structured a political system of more devolved power for semi-autonomous or autonomous regions. Belgium, for example, is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system with three highly autonomous regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and the Brussels capital region. The European Union is an interesting case of a supra-national political union of 28 states with a standardized system of laws and an internal single economic market. An outgrowth of economic agreements among Western European countries in the 1950s, the EU is today one of the largest single markets in the world and accounts for roughly a quarter of the global economic output. In addition to a parliament, the EU government, located in Brussels, Belgium, has a commission to execute laws, a courts system, and two councils, one for national ministers of the member states and the other for heads of state or government of the member states. The EU’s complicated political system allows for varying and overlapping levels of legal and political authority. Some member states have anti-EU movements in their countries that broadly share a concern over a loss of political and cultural autonomy in their country. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, known as “Brexit,” has been a complex and controversial process.

As this brief overview suggests, the concept of a nation-state is central to global politics. Crucial questions on what constitutes a nation-state underpin many of the most significant political conflicts in the world. Autonomous movements that seek greater sovereignty for a particular nation are found in every region of the world. At the heart of the relationship between nations and states is the idea of self-determination—that distinct cultural groups should be able to define their own political and economic destiny. Self-determination as a conception of justice suggests that freedom is not just individual but also communal—the freedom of defined groups to autonomy and self-direction.

Self-determination as a conception of justice suggests that freedom is not just individual but also communal—the freedom of defined groups to autonomy and self-direction.

The push and pull of power that brings nations together or tears them apart is everywhere in global politics. Moreover, states may appear stronger than they actually are, as the unexpected fall of the Soviet Union suggests. The legitimacy of the state and the cohesiveness of a nation go a long way toward understanding stability in the global world.

Comparing Constitutional Structures and Institutions

In Chapter Four we provided an overview of constitutions as a blueprints for political systems and in Chapter Three’s focus on political institutions we discussed legislative, executive, and judicial units and powers such as unicameral or bicameral legislatures, presidential systems, judicial review, and so on. The relationship between similar and different institutional forms make up the nuts and bolts of comparative political inquiry. In comparing constitutions across countries, each constitution speaks to the unique characteristics of a political community but there are also similarities. Constitutions typically outline the nature of political leadership, structure a form of political representation, provide for some form of executive authority, define a legal system for adjudicating law, and authorize and limit the reach of government power. On the other hand, there are several unique factors that determine a constitution an government. Geography, for example, often has a profound impact on the constitutional structure and form of government.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Large countries with scattered populations, for example, must be more sensitive to the legitimacy of the state in regions far removed from the center of government power. Some governments have moved their seat of power to more centralized and less populous cities in response to this concern—Abuja, Nigeria, Canberra, Australia, Dodoma, Tanzania, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, Brasilia, Brazil and Washington DC in the United States are examples of capital cities founded as a more central location in order to better balance power among competing regions.

Another factor is social stratification—differentiation in society based on wealth and status. What is typically regarded as lower, middle, and upper classes in most developed societies, social stratification can be complex, overlapping, and influenced by a variety of group characteristics such as race or ethnicity and gender. Social stratification can lead to political stratification—differing levels of access, representation, influence, and control of political power in government. This derived power can in turn reinforce social stratification in various ways. For example, the wealthy and privileged of a country may have derived political power from their wealth and in turn shape and influence government in such a way as to protect and increase their wealth, influence, and privilege. With the comparative method of political inquiry, political scientists can study the degrees to which social stratification effects political processes across countries. This kind of comparative inquiry can yield important insights such as whether wealth derived from group characteristics leads to greater political stratification than wealth derived across more diverse groups, or whether reforms directed at lessening political stratification have any effect on social stratification.

Lastly, global stratification suggests when looking at the global system, there is an unequal distribution of capital and resources such that countries with less powerful economies are dependent on countries with more powerful economies. Three broad classes define this global stratification: core countries, semi-peripheral countries, and peripheral countries. Core countries are highly industrialized and both control and benefit from the global economic market. Their relationship to peripheral countries is typically predicated on resource extraction—core countries may trade or may seek to outright control natural resources in the peripheral countries. Take as an example two open pit uranium mines located near Arlit in the African country of Niger. Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, was a former colony of France. These mines were developed by French corporations, with substantial backing from the French government, in the early 1970s. French corporations continue to own, process, and transport uranium from the Arlit mines. The vast majority of the uranium needed for French nuclear power reactors and the French nuclear weapons program comes from Arlit. The mines have completely transformed Niger in a number of ways. 90% of the value of Niger’s exports come from uranium extraction and processing, leading to what some economists call a “resource curse”—a situation in which an economy is dominated by a single natural resource, hampering the diversification of the economy, industrialization, and the development of a highly skilled workforce.

how to write a comparative politics essay

Semi-periphery countries have intermediate levels of industrialization and development with a particular focus on manufacturing and service industries. Core countries rely on semi-peripheral countries to provide low cost services, making the economies of core and semi-peripheral countries well integrated with one another, but also creating an economic situation in which semi-peripheral countries become increasingly dependent on consumption in core countries and the global economy generally, sometimes at the expense of more economic self-sufficient and sustainable development. As an example, let’s consider Malaysia, a newly industrialized Asian country of over 40 million people. Malaysia has had a GDP growth rate of over 5% for 50 years. Previously a resource extraction economy, Malaysia went through rapid industrialization and is currently a major manufacturing economy, and is one of the world’s largest exporters of semi-conductors, IT and communication equipment, and electrical devices. It is also the home country of the Karex corporation, the world’s biggest producer of condoms.

Included among core countries are the United States and Canada, Western Europe and the Nordic countries, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Semi-peripheral countries include China, India, Russia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa. Periphery countries include most of Africa, the Middle East, Central America, Eastern Europe, and several Asian countries. Reflect on the relationship between core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral countries. Do you think this relationship is predicated more on exploitation and control or mutually beneficial economic partnerships in a global environment? Choose three countries—one core, one semi-peripheral, and one peripheral—that have political and economic ties to one another. Evaluate and analyze relations between these countries. What are the prominent economic interactions? What best characterizes the diplomacy and political relations between these countries? Are the forms of government similar or different?

The Value of Languages and Comprehensive Knowledge

Comparative politics arguably requires more comprehensive knowledge of countries, political systems, cultures, and languages than the other sub-disciplines in political science. Language skill, in particular, is often essential for the comparativist to conduct good research. Having some facility with languages spoken in the countries or regions central to the research project gives researcher access to information and opens up avenues of communication and knowledge that is needed for in-depth understanding.  

In conducting field research, knowledge of local languages is critically important. Conducting interviews and doing observations in the field require familiarity with common languages spoken in the area. Grants are available from the US State Department and academic institutions for graduate students (and in some cases promising undergraduates) for language programs. The best environment for learning a foreign language is immersive—ideally, students should spend time in areas they have research interests in to gain familiarity with the language(s) and cultural practices. For example, if one wanted to conduct a comparative research project on political development in Kosovo and Abkhazia—two breakaway autonomous republics of similar size and population that are key sites of the geopolitical struggle between the West and Russia—it would be necessary to have some familiarity with Albanian (the dominant language of Kosovo) and Abkhaz, but it may also be helpful to have some exposure to Serbian, Russian, and Georgian as well.

Comparativists should ideally have broad but deep knowledge of the world—understanding regional issues, environmental resources, demographics, and relations between countries provides a pool of general knowledge that can help comparativists avoid obstacles while conducting their research. For example, if one were conducting a study on the relationship between women’s access to contraceptives and the percent of women in the workforce with a data set of some 150 countries, it is useful to know that in the non-Magreb countries of Africa women make up a disproportionately large percentage of agricultural labor. Despite low access to contraceptives, sub-Saharan African countries have relatively high percentages of women in the work force due to the cross-cultural norm of women farmers.

Field Research in Comparative Politics

A crucial component of doing comparative politics is field research—the collection of data or information in the relevant areas of your research focus. Where political theory is akin to the discipline of philosophy, comparative politics is akin to anthropology in this field research component. Comparativists are encouraged to “leave the office” and bring their research out into the relevant areas in the world. Being on the ground affords the researcher a firsthand perspective and access to the sources that underpin good comparative analysis. Conducting surveys with local respondents, doing interviews with key actors in and out of government, and making participant observations are some common methods of gathering evidence for the field researcher. To continue with the above example of Kosovo and Abkhazia, suppose a researcher was interested in comparing constitutional development and reform in the two republics. Interviews with key actors in developing those respective constitutions would provide a firsthand account of the process, while surveys conducted with local responses could measure the degree of support for key reforms. A researcher could also conduct participant observations of the legislative process, media events, or council meetings.

Being in the field always comes with surprises that may alter the research project in numerous ways. Poor infrastructure may hamper travel. Corruption may create obstacles in survey work or interviews. Locals may be unwilling to work with a foreign researcher whose intentions are in doubt. It is always important to balance your ideal research project with the practical realities you find on the ground. Deciding whether to take a short or long trip abroad is also an important consideration—shorter trips may bring more focus and efficiency to your work and also afford more opportunity to identify points of comparison and contrast, whereas longer trips can be more open-ended and immersive, giving the researcher the opportunity to develop contacts and and have a more in-depth cultural experience. Lastly, case selection and sampling are important considerations—macro-level case selection involves identifying a country to conduct field work; meso-level selection involves locating relevant regions or towns; micro-level selection involves identifying individuals to interview or specific documents for content analysis.

Comparative politics is more about a method of political inquiry than a subject matter in politics. The comparative method seeks insight through the evaluation and analysis of two or more cases. There are two main strategies in the comparative method: most similar systems design, in which the cases are similar but the outcome (or dependent variable) is different, and most different systems design, in which the cases are different but the outcome is the same. Both strategies can yield valuable comparative insights. A key unit of comparison is the nation-state, which gives a researcher relatively cohesive cultural and political entities as the basis of comparison. A nation-state is the overlap of a definable cultural identity (a nation) with a political system that reflects and affirms characteristics of that identity (a state).

In comparing constitutions and political institutions across countries, it is important to analyze the factors that shape unique constitutional and institutional designs. Geography and basic demographics play a role, but also social stratification, or difference among individuals in terms of wealth or prestige. Social stratification is often reflected, and subsequently reinforced, in political stratification (differentiation in political power, access, and representation). Lastly, global stratification suggests an imbalance of power in the global world, in which core countries are able to control or influence economic and political processes in semi-periphery and periphery countries.

In the next chapter, we will consider a very different set of sub-disciplines—American politics and public policy and administration.

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Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay | Tips & Examples

Published on August 6, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

Comparing and contrasting is an important skill in academic writing . It involves taking two or more subjects and analyzing the differences and similarities between them.

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Table of contents

When should i compare and contrast, making effective comparisons, comparing and contrasting as a brainstorming tool, structuring your comparisons, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about comparing and contrasting.

Many assignments will invite you to make comparisons quite explicitly, as in these prompts.

  • Compare the treatment of the theme of beauty in the poetry of William Wordsworth and John Keats.
  • Compare and contrast in-class and distance learning. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

Some other prompts may not directly ask you to compare and contrast, but present you with a topic where comparing and contrasting could be a good approach.

One way to approach this essay might be to contrast the situation before the Great Depression with the situation during it, to highlight how large a difference it made.

Comparing and contrasting is also used in all kinds of academic contexts where it’s not explicitly prompted. For example, a literature review involves comparing and contrasting different studies on your topic, and an argumentative essay may involve weighing up the pros and cons of different arguments.

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See an example

how to write a comparative politics essay

As the name suggests, comparing and contrasting is about identifying both similarities and differences. You might focus on contrasting quite different subjects or comparing subjects with a lot in common—but there must be some grounds for comparison in the first place.

For example, you might contrast French society before and after the French Revolution; you’d likely find many differences, but there would be a valid basis for comparison. However, if you contrasted pre-revolutionary France with Han-dynasty China, your reader might wonder why you chose to compare these two societies.

This is why it’s important to clarify the point of your comparisons by writing a focused thesis statement . Every element of an essay should serve your central argument in some way. Consider what you’re trying to accomplish with any comparisons you make, and be sure to make this clear to the reader.

Comparing and contrasting can be a useful tool to help organize your thoughts before you begin writing any type of academic text. You might use it to compare different theories and approaches you’ve encountered in your preliminary research, for example.

Let’s say your research involves the competing psychological approaches of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. You might make a table to summarize the key differences between them.

Or say you’re writing about the major global conflicts of the twentieth century. You might visualize the key similarities and differences in a Venn diagram.

A Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences between World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.

These visualizations wouldn’t make it into your actual writing, so they don’t have to be very formal in terms of phrasing or presentation. The point of comparing and contrasting at this stage is to help you organize and shape your ideas to aid you in structuring your arguments.

When comparing and contrasting in an essay, there are two main ways to structure your comparisons: the alternating method and the block method.

The alternating method

In the alternating method, you structure your text according to what aspect you’re comparing. You cover both your subjects side by side in terms of a specific point of comparison. Your text is structured like this:

Mouse over the example paragraph below to see how this approach works.

One challenge teachers face is identifying and assisting students who are struggling without disrupting the rest of the class. In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher can easily identify when a student is struggling based on their demeanor in class or simply by regularly checking on students during exercises. They can then offer assistance quietly during the exercise or discuss it further after class. Meanwhile, in a Zoom-based class, the lack of physical presence makes it more difficult to pay attention to individual students’ responses and notice frustrations, and there is less flexibility to speak with students privately to offer assistance. In this case, therefore, the traditional classroom environment holds the advantage, although it appears likely that aiding students in a virtual classroom environment will become easier as the technology, and teachers’ familiarity with it, improves.

The block method

In the block method, you cover each of the overall subjects you’re comparing in a block. You say everything you have to say about your first subject, then discuss your second subject, making comparisons and contrasts back to the things you’ve already said about the first. Your text is structured like this:

  • Point of comparison A
  • Point of comparison B

The most commonly cited advantage of distance learning is the flexibility and accessibility it offers. Rather than being required to travel to a specific location every week (and to live near enough to feasibly do so), students can participate from anywhere with an internet connection. This allows not only for a wider geographical spread of students but for the possibility of studying while travelling. However, distance learning presents its own accessibility challenges; not all students have a stable internet connection and a computer or other device with which to participate in online classes, and less technologically literate students and teachers may struggle with the technical aspects of class participation. Furthermore, discomfort and distractions can hinder an individual student’s ability to engage with the class from home, creating divergent learning experiences for different students. Distance learning, then, seems to improve accessibility in some ways while representing a step backwards in others.

Note that these two methods can be combined; these two example paragraphs could both be part of the same essay, but it’s wise to use an essay outline to plan out which approach you’re taking in each paragraph.

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If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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Some essay prompts include the keywords “compare” and/or “contrast.” In these cases, an essay structured around comparing and contrasting is the appropriate response.

Comparing and contrasting is also a useful approach in all kinds of academic writing : You might compare different studies in a literature review , weigh up different arguments in an argumentative essay , or consider different theoretical approaches in a theoretical framework .

Your subjects might be very different or quite similar, but it’s important that there be meaningful grounds for comparison . You can probably describe many differences between a cat and a bicycle, but there isn’t really any connection between them to justify the comparison.

You’ll have to write a thesis statement explaining the central point you want to make in your essay , so be sure to know in advance what connects your subjects and makes them worth comparing.

Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:

  • The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
  • The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.

It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.

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How to write a comparative essay

A step-by-step guide with instructions, outlines, and samples

Writing a great comparative essay means highlighting the similarities and differences between two things in a systematic manner. Start by choosing the parameters (items) to compare, write an outline, and fill in the details for each section. Make sure to have an introduction and conclusion.

The comparative essay is one form of document that you will probably be expected to write at some point over the course of your college career. The purpose of this article is to provide you with a thorough overview of the comparative essay. Specific things that will be addressed include:

Purpose of the comparative essay

Explanation of comparative models, how to analyze subjects, elements of a good comparative essay, how to write a great comparative essay.

  • Samples/examples
  • Best practices and advice
  • Additional information

By the end of this article, you should feel more confident about your own knowledge of what a comparative essay is and the best ways to go about writing one (if you haven't decided to buy a comparative essay from Ultius ).

How to write a comparative essay

The fundamental purpose of a comparative essay is to elaborate the similarities and differences between two things in a systematic manner.

An effective comparative essay will leave the reader with much greater clarity about the natures and properties of the things that have been compared.

This could potentially serve as a basis for making a decision in favor of one or the other thing.

A comparative essay is different from, for example, an argumentative essay in that the comparative essay does not make a case for either of the two things under comparison. Rather, the point is to simply set up the comparison so that the reader will have as much information about the two things as possible.

Why are comparative essays important?

The comparative essay is an important form of document because when you have to make a decision or choose a side in an argument, you will want to know as much as possible about the two options under consideration—and a good comparative essay on the subject can bring out both the similarities and the differences between the options, thereby clarifying the stakes at play.

For example, a comparative essay could address the similarities and differences between any of the following pairs:

  • The Republican Party and the Democratic Party
  • Christianity and Marxism
  • The Big Bang and creationism
  • The Light or Dark side of the Force from Star Wars
  • The revolutionary and the reformist perspectives on social change

By developing a comparative essay on any of these pairs, you can not only understand each item of under comparison is a more thorough way, you can also get closer to figuring out which item you prefer.

For example, a solid comparative essay on revolution vs. reformism could not only help you understand what each of these items entails, it can also help you figure out whether you would rather be a revolutionary or a reformist. Likewise, if you only have time to binge watch one show, then a comparative essay could help you figure out whether you would prefer to go with Game of Thrones or Westworld .

When writing a comparative essay, there are several models you can use in order to ensure that you set up your comparison as effectively as possible.

Venn diagram

The Venn diagram is a classic, and surely, you're familiar with it. This is the model of two overlapping circles, where each circle belongs to one item of comparison: features shared by both items (similarities) go in the overlapping middle zone, whereas features that are not shared go in the outer areas. For example, here is a Venn diagram that compares humans against gorillas.

Venn diagram comparing humans and gorillas.

When using the Venn diagram model, it is important to note that the differences must be symmetrical. In other words, every difference you list on one side of the comparison must be matched by a difference on the other side.

For example, if you were comparing Apple and Amazon, then for the parameter of "founder," you can list "Steve Jobs" in one circle and "Jeff Bezos" in the other. But it wouldn't make sense if you just listed one or the other: you must list something for each of the items of comparisons under the selected parameter of comparison.

In the Venn diagram above, the first parameter is "language," so for humans it is listed that we have a capacity of language, whereas for gorillas it is listed that they do not.

You don't need to worry about this kind of symmetry when it comes to the similarities, since you will list the same thing for both items of comparison (which means you only have to list it once, in the overlapping zone). In the example, above, the fact that both humans and gorillas are mammals is thus listed just once in the middle.

The dialectical method

The dialectical method is important within the discipline of philosophy, and it has been used to great effect by thinkers such as Socrates and Hegel and Kierkegaard.

This involves holding two ideas or items in tension with each other, to better clarify not only the ideas themselves but also the dynamic relationship that exist between the ideas. The first idea is called the thesis , and the second idea is called the antithesis .

For example, Romanticism could be dialectically compared against the Enlightenment that came before it, because Romanticism was in some ways a rejection of the previous worldview.

Need help?  Essay writing services from Ultius can help you produce a great sample compare and contrast essay.

So, by setting up a comparison between Romanticism and the Enlightenment, it becomes possible to see both the continuities (or similarities) between the one and the other, as well as the contradictions (or differences) between them.

Berlin, Isaiah. The Roots of Romanticism . Princeton: Princeton U P, 2013. Print.

From the table above, it is clear that we are able to understand both Romanticism and the Enlightenment better if we set them up in terms of dialectical contrast.

Clearly, they are different in some important ways (logic vs. passion, for example), but we can also see that they are in continuity with each other (both happened in Western Europe and responded to previous developments). This comparison also leads one to wonder about whether it would be possible to make a synthesis that takes the best from both the thesis and the antithesis

A good comparative essay can lead one to ask such questions and pursue such lines of inquiry.

To analyze your subjects for a comparative essay, you need to identify clear parameters, or axes, in terms of which your two selected items can be compared. For example, in the table above, Romanticism and the Enlightenment were compared along the axis of " epistemology ". But that axis won't be relevant to all subjects.

Your job when preparing to write a comparative essay is to identify the specific axes that are relevant for the items that you are comparing. Why is the comparison interesting, and what insights are you trying produce? The answers to those questions will determine how you decide to frame your comparison.

For example, we could compare the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) against the Democratic Party in terms of the axis of membership. This would reveal that the DSA has far fewer registered members than does the Democratic Party.

We could also compare them on the axis of healthcare policy, where it may be found that the DSA and the Democratic Party agree about the importance of universal coverage. When we look at the axis of economics, though, we may find that the DSA is much more radical in its proposals than the Democratic Party.

The problem of identifying relevance

In principle, any one thing in the world could be compared with any other thing in the world. For example, you could compare your shoe with the moon, and conclude that one similarity is that they both exist within the Milky Way galaxy.

But this would be a meaningless point (even if it may make for some interesting poetry). It is important for you to figure out what exactly you are trying to determine through your comparative essay. What is your purpose for writing it?

This will help you choose two items where setting up a dialectical contrast between them will produce actual insight, and it will also help you to choose the proper parameters by which to compare those items.

For example, suppose that you are running a business, and there are two expansion options open in front of you. It would be logical for you to compare and contrast these options, since this will help ensure that you are making your decision with as much knowledge and insight as possible.

Business associates meeting around a laptop.

Likewise, one parameter that you are sure to consider is: which option will make your business the most money? If you pick parameters that are meaningless, then you will obtain no real insight that can help you make the important decision.

Using a rubric

Once you have identified both the two items of comparison and the axes along which they will be compared, you can proceed to analyze the items by applying the axes in the form of a table or rubric.

This is what has been done, for example, in the tables that have been developed above in this article. In the left-most column, list the parameters you have selected in order to compare your items. Then, in the top-most row, list the items.

Then go ahead and list the relevant details for each parameter for each of the two items. This will produce a table where you can see how each item measures up against the other for each parameter.

The important thing is to be systematic when you are making your comparison: it should not seem random or arbitrary. Thus, it is important to carefully select both the items and the parameters for comparison, and then to proceed to address each item/parameter combo in turn.

There are several elements that are a part of any good comparative essay.

Effective selection of items

A strong comparative essay has well-chosen items for comparison, with the comparison producing actual insights of value through the juxtaposition of the two items. If the items appear to be chosen for no apparent reason, or if the comparison does not in fact produce insight, then the comparative essay would be quite weak (or at any rate pointless).

The comparative essay is not meant to make an argument in favor of one thing or another, but it is meant to produce knowledge and insight about the two things under comparison. In order to compare and contrast items in an effective way, the two items must be different enough from each other, but they should also not be so different that it just feels absurd to even compare them at all.

Effective selection of parameters of comparison

A good comparative essay not only includes well-selected items of comparison, it also includes well-selected parameters of comparison. Between any two selected items, you could theoretically make an endless number of comparisons.

But a good comparative essay identifies parameters of comparative in terms of salience , or the reasons why anyone would be interested in the comparison in the first place. This can be difficult, because in principle, any comparison could be interesting, depending on the audience of the comparative essay and the intended purpose of the essay.

Twelve sided die displaying the zodiac

For example, one could use the parameter of zodiac sign to compare Romantic artists against Enlightenment artists.

This could be very interesting to people who are very serious about the zodiac, but it would probably seem ridiculous to just about everyone else.

But if you were writing for an audience of zodiac fanatics, then this comparison could actually be a success.

So, there is no parameter of comparison that is "inherently" bad. Rather, the point is to find parameters that highlight specific salient aspects of the selected items.

For example, when comparing Romanticism against the Enlightenment, core values would be a solid parameter of comparison, because that will surely help produce insights about how worldviews changed from the one paradigm to another.

Strong organizational structure

If you want your comparative essay to be a success, then it absolutely must have strong organizational structure . This is because an effective comparison must be easy for your reader to follow. It can't just jump all over the place at random, which not only be confusing but could also result in the reader forgetting what the point of the comparison was in the first place.

In general, there are two ways in which you can organize your comparative essay. In the first format, each of the parameters would be considered in the section for similarities and the section for differences.

In the first format the comparative essay is organized in terms of similarities and differences, whereas in the second format the essay is organized in terms of parameters of comparison.

One version of the comparative essay compares the similarities and differences between subjects

In the second format, both similarities and differences would be considered within each of the parameter sections.

The second version of the comparative essay compares the parameters of both the similarities and differences

Both these are formats are good, and a strong comparative essay could be built around either one.

The important thing is to have a clear system and to not make your comparisons random.

There needs to be an organizational structure that your reader can easily follow.

There are steps you can follow in order to ensure that your comparative essay has all the elements that will be required in order to make it great.

Ask yourself about your intention

If you have selected two items for your comparative essay, then you should start by asking yourself why you selected those two items. What is it about the two items that made you think it would be a good idea to compare them? (Or if you were assigned the two items, then why do you think those items were selected by your professor?)

The point here is that the items selected for a comparative essay are non-random. They are selected because that specific comparison should be able to yield interesting insights (unlike research papers ).

For example, if you are writing a comparative essay on the dogs vs. cats, then are you writing this from the perspective of evolutionary biology? Or are you perhaps writing it in order to inform potential pet owners who are debating whether they want a dog or a cat?

The purpose of your essay will determine what parameters you will select in order to compare your two items. This means that you should have an intended audience in mind, and you should also have specific questions you would like to know more about.

In short, in order to develop effective parameters for your comparative essay, you have to ask yourself why you are writing it and who would be interested in the insights produced by the essay. This can help ensure you select both appropriate items and appropriate parameters for comparison.

Develop a structural outline

It is very important that you do not just jump into your comparative essay and start writing it without a plan. That is a recipe for disaster, and the comparisons will almost certainly turn out random and confusing. Rather, you should begin with a solid outline .

A good outline will do three main things:

  • 1. Identify the selected items of comparison in the introduction/thesis
  • 2. Utilize one of the two organizational formats described above
  • 3. Provide a roadmap for how you intend to systematically follow through on the comparison

For example, here is how an outline could look for a comparative essay on Romanticism vs. the Enlightenment.

Sample outline of a comparative essay about Romanticism and the Enlightenment

In this sample outline, the format that is used dedicates a paragraph to each of three parameters of comparison, and both similarities and differences are addressed for each of those parameters.

This is the kind of logical flow that you will need to have in order for your comparative essay to turn out great.

Write in a systematic way

A comparative essay is not a place to get too creative with your writing, whether in terms of organization or in terms of style.

Rather, you should focus on simply carrying out your comparison, point-by-point and in a way that is easy for your reader to follow. This can get a little tedious, so if that is a problem for you, then you should make sure that you set aside enough time to work on your comparative essay little by little.

For example, if your essay has three parameters, then you could write a section on the first parameter today, the second parameter tomorrow, and the third parameter the next day.

The important thing is for you to ensure that you consider each of your two selected items in terms of each of your selected parameters. This needs to be done in a smooth and logical manner, such that your reader knows where you are in the comparison. There should be no jumping around, and there should be no departure from the basic format or structure.

Example comparative (compare/contrast) essay

Best practices/tips.

We have now arrived at the end of this guide, and you should have a much better idea of what makes a comparative essay successful and how you can go about writing one. It may be helpful to now summarize some of the main points that have been addressed here.

Let's address five main points.

1. Ensure that you select appropriate items for comparison

The two items that will be compared in your comparative essay should be carefully selected. The items should have some shared features and be in the same "class" of items, but they should also have substantial differences to which you are trying to call attention. If the items are too similar, then there would be no point in the comparison, but if they are too different, that can also make the comparison meaningless.

2. Select effective parameters of comparison

Your comparative essay shouldn't compare anything and everything between your two items; rather, the parameters should be specifically selected to highlight specific, salient similarities and differences. In order to determine what parameters would be effective, you have to ask yourself why you are writing your comparative essay and what sort of insights you intend to produce about the items being compared.

3. Use tools and models in an effective way

The Venn diagram is one tool that can be very helpful in conceptualizing your comparative essay, especially if you are a more visual kind of learner. Tables, rubrics, and outlines will also work to help ensure that you are developing a strong backbone of logic and systematic reasoning for your comparative essay. These and other tools may even help you reconsider your initial choices of items and parameters, if you realize that significant insights are not being produced.

4. Choose an organizational format, and stick with it

There are two main ways in which to structure an effective comparative essay, which have been described above. You can dedicate one section to similarities and one section to differences; or, you can dedicate a section to each of the parameters of comparison. This second option is usually more effective, especially if you are new to comparative essays. But either way, it is crucial that you stick to your chosen format and do not jump around and confuse the reader.

5. Seek assistance if you need it

If you are still uncertain about how to write a successful comparative essay, then Ultius is here to help. Our writer help section has many tools like this one available on various types of essays; we have a huge writer help section that contains all sorts of information on pretty much any writing-related questions you may have; and we also have elite professional writers who can produce a sample comparative essay for you on any subject of your choosing. We are here for you, and if you have any further questions about how to write a comparative essay, then you should feel free to reach out.

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how to write a comparative politics essay

  • From Our Archives

Comparative Politics: Method and Research

In the early 1950s, the nascent political science subfield of comparative politics wrestled with questions of method and whether to approach comparing nation-states via abstract concepts or a problem-oriented focus. To begin addressing these concerns, the SSRC convened an interuniversity research seminar in which political scientists began to create a framework for the field that ultimately led to the formation of the Committee on Comparative Politics. Roy Macridis , in this report, summarizes the seminar’s discussion, which included the relative merits of area studies approaches to more abstract theorizing. The conversation clearly tilted toward starting with conceptual schemes independent of context, and so exemplifies the impact of behavioralism that Michael Desch illustrates in his Items essay .

The study of comparative politics has been primarily concerned thus far with the formal institutions of foreign governments, particularly of Western Europe. In this sense it has been not only limited but also primarily descriptive and formalistic. Its place in the field of political science has been ill-defined. Is the student of comparative politics properly concerned primarily with description of the formal institutions of various polities, or with undertaking comparisons? If with the latter, what is the meaning of comparison? Is it confined to the description of differences in various institutional arrangements? If comparison is to be something more than description of formal institutional differences, what are its aims, scope, and methods? Should the student of comparative politics attempt to compare total configurations? If not, then he has to develop a precise notion of what can be isolated from the total configuration of a system or systems and compared.

The above questions illustrate the difficulties and the challenge confronting the student of comparative politics. The problem of comparative method revolves around the discovery of uniformities, and the examination of variables in the context of uniformities between various systems. But even so, what are the particular clusters of states that have a degree of uniformity that makes the comparison and understanding of variations possible? Does the concept of “area,” as used, provide us with such a hunting ground for the study of “difference,” against a background of “uniformity”? Is the concept of culture a more acceptable one? Or does the similarity of social and economic contextual elements provide a better opportunity to compare and understand variations? What degree of homogeneity is required for comparison, and are comparisons between systems not showing the desired degree of homogeneity impossible?

The members of the seminar agreed that it would be extremely ambitious to attempt to answer these methodological questions in detail and at the same time indulge in empirical investigation. It was thought that if we could do some spadework on the methodological issues, we would invite comments and suggestions from the members of the profession and increase awareness of the need for making one’s methodological position explicit prior to undertaking comparative empirical investigation.

Comparability and uniqueness

Questions of the purpose and nature of comparison arose repeatedly, and the members of the seminar devoted considerable time to discussing them. It was agreed that the general problem of comparison is extraordinarily difficult for political science since it is unlikely that we will ever find two or more societies that are identical in all respects except for a single, variable factor. Consequently, the possibility of comparing one variable or even a set of variables against identical conditions is illusory. The alternative would seem to be comparison—at different levels of abstraction and complexity—of wider or narrower segments of the political process.

The following tentative classification of levels of comparative analysis was suggested: (1) comparison of a single problem limited to political systems that are homogeneous in character and operation; (2) comparison of several elements or clusters of elements in relation to political systems that are fairly homogeneous; (3) comparison of institutions or segments of the political process irrespective of “homogeneity”; (4) comparison of political systems as such. These four levels of comparison require increasingly higher levels of abstraction. At the fourth level, some such approach as that of “ideal types” would seem to be called for.

In general, two points of view were expressed throughout the seminar discussions. The first saw the need of a conceptual scheme that not only precisely defines the categories under which data may be collected, but also indicates the criteria of relevance to be adopted and the variables that are to be related hypothetically for the purpose of comparative study. According to the other view, given the present state of comparative studies, comparability ought to be derived primarily from the formulation of problems with limited and manageable proportions. This disagreement should not obscure the area of agreement reached by the members of the seminar.

For example, it was agreed: (1) Comparison involves abstraction, and concrete situations or processes can never be compared as such. To compare means to select certain types of concepts, and in selection we have to “distort” the unique and the concrete. (2) Prior to any comparison it is necessary not only to establish categories and concepts, but also to determine criteria of relevance of the particular components of a social and political situation to the problem under analysis, e.g., relevance of social stratification to family system, or of sun spots to political instability. (3) It is necessary to establish criteria for the adequate representation of the particular components that enter into a general analysis of a problem. (4) The formulation of hypothetical relations and their investigation with empirical data can never lead to proof. A hypothesis or a series of hypothetical relations would be considered verified only as long as not falsified. (5) Hypothetical relations rather than single hypotheses should be formulated. The connecting link between general hypothetical series and particular social relations should be provided by specifying the conditions under which any or all the possibilities enumerated in the series are expected to take place. (6) Finally, one of the greatest dangers in hypothesizing is the projection of possible relationships ad infinitum . This can be avoided by the orderly collection of data prior to hypothesizing. Such collection may in itself lead us to recognize irrelevant relations (climate and the electoral system, language and industrial technology, etc.).

The members of the seminar, therefore, substantially rejected the arguments in favor of uniqueness, and argued that comparison between institutions not only is possible but may eventually provide, through a multiple approach, a general theory of politics and a general theory of political change. Before this development can be realized, the following research approaches should be emphasized and undertaken in as orderly a way as possible: (1) elaboration of a tentative and even rough classificatory scheme or schemes; (2) conceptualization at various levels of abstraction, preferably at the manageable level of the problem-oriented approach; (3) formulation of single hypotheses or hypothetical series that may be suggested by the formulation of either a classificatory scheme or sets of problems; (4) constant reference of hypotheses to empirical data for the purpose of falsification and the formulation of new hypotheses.

Approaches to the comparative study of political systems

Conceptual schemes . The seminar members believed that formulation of a conceptual scheme for the comparative study of politics would help provide a classificatory table and permit the elaboration of hypotheses. Comparison, it was agreed, must proceed from a definition of politics as a universally discoverable social activity. The function of politics is to provide society with social decisions having the force and status of legitimacy. A social decision has the “force of legitimacy” if the collective regularized power of the society is brought to bear against deviations, and if there is a predominant disposition among those subject to the decision to comply. As for the means of enforcing decisions, every society, generally speaking, has a determinate organization that enjoys a monopoly of legitimate authority (or political ultimacy). Moreover, the characteristic distinguishing between political relationships and other relationships is the existence of this framework of legitimacy. Conceptions of legitimacy or “legitimacy myths” are highly varied ways in which people justify coercion and conformity, as well as the ways by which a society rationalizes its ascription of political ultimacy, and the beliefs that account for a predisposition to compliance with social decisions.

But the legitimacy myth only defines the conditions of obedience. Within its framework there is the political process itself, through which numerous groups having political aspirations (policy-aspiration groups and power-aspiration groups) strive for recognition and elevation to the position of legitimacy. The factors that determine which power-aspiration group is to be invested with legitimacy, to the exclusion of all others, are the effective power factors in the system.

It was suggested, then, that the general modes of politics, for the purpose of analysis, would be as follows: Political processes are the struggle among power-aspiration and policy-aspiration groups competing for the status of legitimacy; the outcome is determined by the society’s structure of effective power, and the end state, legitimacy, is the political reflection of its general value system.

The major components of the political process, which should provide a fairly coherent classification scheme as well as the possibility of formulating hypothetical relations, are the following: the “elective” process of the system, its “formal” deliberative process, its “informal” deliberative process, its structure of “influence,” and its structure of “power.” The major tasks, envisioned under this scheme, in the analysis of political systems are: (1) to analyze the legitimacy myth of the society in terms of specific content and relationship to the society’s general myth structure; (2) to inquire into the system’s political aspirations, political processes, and effective power factors; (3) to analyze both the complexity and ultimacy of decision-making systems in the society, specifically the conditions under which political ultimacy is either diffused or concentrated, and the relationships between subsidiary and ultimate decision-making systems; (4) to provide for a theory of change through the study of “formal” and “informal” processes.

Alternative approaches . The general agreement on the usefulness of a conceptual scheme was coupled with an equally strong emphasis on the need for alternative approaches. It was thought that the present state of comparative politics calls for a “pluralistic” rather than a unitary approach, and that for each of the alternative approaches suggested, the same degree of methodological rigor should be followed as in the development of a conceptual scheme. The alternative approaches agreed upon were: the problem approach, the elaboration of a classificatory scheme or checklist to aid in more coherent and more systematic compilation of data, and the area approach.

The problem approach

The study of comparative politics cannot wait for the development of a comprehensive conceptual scheme. Instead of aiming toward universality it may be advisable to adopt a more modest approach. The members of the seminar agreed that the “problem approach” is a step in this direction. It was pointed out that the formulation of a problem in itself has some of the characteristics of a conceptual scheme. It directs research toward various aspects of the political process and at the same time calls for an ordering of empirical data and the formulation of hypotheses or series of hypothetical relations. Furthermore, this approach is flexible enough so that it can lead the research worker to examination of questions that have a varying degree of comprehensiveness in terms of both theory and empirical orientation and investigation.

Three types of problem approaches were suggested and discussed: (1) Narrow-range theory, which involves a relatively low degree of abstraction; i.e., it applies to homogeneous cultural contexts and deals with a limited number of variables. (2) Middle-range theory, which is conceived to include problems of fairly general importance, involving a relatively high degree of generalization, but remaining below the level of a truly general theory of politics. (3) Policy-oriented theory, which deals with the immediate practical solution of important problems and is consequently focused on problems originating in pressing conflict situations or in an overwhelming need for policy action.

Four criteria by which to select problems were suggested: the intrinsic interest of the problem to political scientists; its ability to eliminate certain key difficulties in the comparative method and the analytical utility of comparison; its capacity for advancing research beyond the current level of inquiry in the field; its probable and eventual significance for the formation of a general theory of comparative politics.

It was agreed that the formulation of the problem should be as clear and logically coherent as possible, and that it should be presented in the following form:

a. The problem must be stated precisely; it must be stated in such a form as to lead immediately to hypotheses; it must be analyzed into its component elements; its variables and the relations between them must be spelled out; and all this must be done in operationally meaningful terms. b. Its relations to a possible general theory of politics must be described. How would the problem fit into a more general theoretical orientation and what more general questions can its solution illuminate? c. The manner in which the problem calls for the use of comparative method must be demonstrated, and the level of abstraction that comparison would involve must be analyzed. d. Outline a recommended research technique for dealing with the problem and justify the recommendation. e. Enumerate possible alternative research techniques.

It was not considered the function of the seminar to state exhaustively narrow-range, middle-range, and policy-oriented problems, but a few typical ones were suggested for the purpose of illustration: An analysis of the relations between the power of dissolution and ministerial stability in parliamentary systems would fall in the realm of narrow-range theory. A study of the political consequences of rapid industrialization in underdeveloped areas of the world would be in the realm of middle-range theory. The following are policy-oriented problems: the development of constitutional government in colonial areas; how to deal with political instability in France; how to dissociate colonial nationalism from Soviet-inspired leadership and ideology; determination of policies of constitutional regimes toward totalitarian parties, e.g., the Communist Party.

A classificatory scheme

The seminar concluded that a checklist might facilitate assembling data in an orderly fashion under commonly formulated concepts. It decided to develop such a checklist for purposes of illustration. The following broad categories and subdivisions were specified:

(1) The setting of politics: an enumeration of the most significant contextual factors of all political systems, i.e., geographic patterning, economic structure, transportation and communication patterns, sociological structure and minorities, cultural patterns, values and value systems, and the record of social change.

(2) The sphere of politics: the actual and potential sphere of political decisions: conditions determining the sphere of decision making, limits on political decisions, major types of decision making, and potential changes in the sphere of decision making.

(3) Who makes decisions: Who are the “elite” supposed to be? To whom does the community impute prestige and what are the prevalent prestige images and symbols? Who actually makes the effective political decisions if they are not made by those who are supposed to make them?

(4) How decisions are made: formulation of problems, agencies and channels of decision making, some major characteristics of decision-making procedure.

(5) Why are decisions obeyed: the enforcement of decisions, compliance, consent, types of consent, ecology of compliance, measurement of compliance.

(6) Practical politics: types, purpose, organization, and techniques of policy-aspiration groups; types, goals, organization, techniques, and influence and effectiveness of power-aspiration groups.

(7) The performance of the system: stability, adjustment, and change, and their conditions, relationship between formal and informal processes, manifestations of instability and stability.

Area study and comparative politics

The third alternative approach to the study of comparative politics is the more systematic use of the area concept. However, neither geographic, historical, economic, nor cultural similarities constitute prima facie evidence of the existence of similar political characteristics. If the concept of an area is to be operationally meaningful for purposes of comparison, it should correspond to some uniform political patterns against which differences may be studied comparatively and explained.

The definition of an area on the basis of culture was considered to be worth detailed discussion. It was suggested that although primarily used by the anthropologists it might be adapted to the needs of political scientists.

To make the concept operationally more meaningful for political science, it was suggested that an attempt be made to define the area concept with reference to “political traits” or “trait complexes” or “problem configuration patterns,” in terms analogous to those used by anthropologists when they analyze the concept of culture in terms of “traits” or “trait complexes.” Such an approach to the definition of an area has not yet been undertaken despite its promise for comparative study. The very search for common political traits and patterns will call for classification and conceptualization. Once similar traits or patterns have been distinguished and have been related to geographically delimited units, the area concept will be of great value since certain political processes can be compared within the area against a common background of similar trait configuration. In this sense it was thought that future research should be directed toward developing in great detail classificatory schemes within areas.

International relations

The last topic considered was the relationship between comparative politics and international politics. It was pointed out that contemporary study of international politics has entered a new stage. Since the national interest is now a central concept of international politics, what tests or criteria are to be used in identifying the interests that shape the foreign policy of any state? Is the student of international politics to accept, at face value, the definition of national interests given by statesmen? Or does the examination of power factors, geography, historical development, etc. offer the student of international politics certain rough tests for defining the “objective” interests of the state?

Assuming that the concept of national interest provides a focal point for investigation, two approaches seem possible, either separately or in combination: (1) To determine analytically what the national interest “ought to be” under certain conditions. One could then compare this evaluation of the national interest with its “actual” definition as provided by the actions and pronouncements of the particular nation. (2) To describe, in terms of the following categories, the reasons why nations define their national interest in certain terms and not in others: survival prerequisites; objective physical conditions—geography, natural resources, tradition, past decisions, value systems, etc.; institutional channels through which the national interest is defined and set—i.e., interest programs and images and how they are defined in the political process; policy interplay between independent political units and their respective interests, including the pattern of reaction within each; the subjective pluralism of the society, by which the content of the interest images is set. The first four categories are in the nature of factors that set limits on the definition of the national interest. The last category defines the possibilities in substantive terms. On the basis of this scheme, it was suggested, there might be a useful “division of labor” or cooperation between students of international politics and of comparative politics. The second and fourth categories could best be handled by students of international politics, the others by specialists in comparative government.

More generally, however, a cooperative effort between students of international politics and comparative politics should be centered in the following areas of mutual interest: (1) The process of decision making has become a function in international politics through existing organizations. How does this decision-making take place? Is it accompanied by any broad legitimacy ideas or myths that transcend the national states? (2) The concept of national interest provides for meaningful concepts for the study of foreign policy. The concept will have to be broken down into component parts, some of which would be studied by students of comparative politics, while others remain within the domain of international politics. Given analogous conditions, generally speaking, the definition of national interest varies by individual states. Determination of what accounts for this variation seems to be the proper task of the specialist in comparative politics. (3) Study of the focal point at which the states meet—diplomacy and negotiations through which conflicts are resolved or common objectives realized—is a cooperative task that admits no arbitrary allocation of duties, for the action of each state depends upon domestic conditions, internal images, and traditional forces. Relations between states, on the other hand, have repercussions on domestic myths, images, authority symbols, and institutions. Domestic and international politics are in this sense complementary factors. (4) The student of international politics may also join with the student of comparative politics in attempting to define and study an area. Certain uniform outlooks and behavior patterns may be due to similar experiences shared by a number of states that can be geographically identified. The study of such uniformities and differences is primarily a joint task. (5) Finally, goals of foreign policy may be jointly studied. In the context of national interest, foreign policy is to be conceived as a dynamic interplay of the given or chosen goals, the organic elements that set limiting conditions on the selection of goals, and the selection of strategy or means for the achievement of the given or chosen goals.

This article is a summary of a longer report on the proceedings of the interuniversity summer research seminar on comparative politics held at Northwestern University during July and August 1952. Plans for the seminar were described briefly in the March 1952 issue of Items , p. 7. While the author is responsible for the statements appearing here, they summarize a collective product and at times reproduce lines of thought expressed originally by the participants both during the meetings and in their respective essays. Members of the seminar were: Samuel H. Beer and Harry Eckstein, Harvard University; George I. Blanksten and Roy C. Macridis, Northwestern University; Karl W. Deutsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Kenneth W. Thompson, University of Chicago; and Robert E. Ward, University of Michigan. Richard Cox of the University of Chicago acted as rapporteur.

Roy C. Macridis (1918–1991) taught political science at Brandeis University since 1965. During the Second World War, Macridis served with the Office of Strategic Services and migrated to the United States in 1944. He was a member of the Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics from 1954 to 1958.

This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 6, No. 4 in December of 1952. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items .

how to write a comparative politics essay

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Comparative Essay

Barbara P

How to Write a Comparative Essay – A Complete Guide

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Published on: Jan 28, 2020

Last updated on: Nov 21, 2023

Comparative Essay

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Comparative essay is a common assignment for school and college students. Many students are not aware of the complexities of crafting a strong comparative essay. 

If you too are struggling with this, don't worry!

In this blog, you will get a complete writing guide for comparative essay writing. From structuring formats to creative topics, this guide has it all.

So, keep reading!

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What is a Comparative Essay?

A comparative essay is a type of essay in which an essay writer compares at least two or more items. The author compares two subjects with the same relation in terms of similarities and differences depending on the assignment.

The main purpose of the comparative essay is to:

  • Highlight the similarities and differences in a systematic manner.
  • Provide great clarity of the subject to the readers.
  • Analyze two things and describe their advantages and drawbacks.

A comparative essay is also known as compare and contrast essay or a comparison essay. It analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both. The Venn diagram is the best tool for writing a paper about the comparison between two subjects.  

Moreover, a comparative analysis essay discusses the similarities and differences of themes, items, events, views, places, concepts, etc. For example, you can compare two different novels (e.g., The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Red Badge of Courage).

However, a comparative essay is not limited to specific topics. It covers almost every topic or subject with some relation.

Comparative Essay Structure

A good comparative essay is based on how well you structure your essay. It helps the reader to understand your essay better. 

The structure is more important than what you write. This is because it is necessary to organize your essay so that the reader can easily go through the comparisons made in an essay.

The following are the two main methods in which you can organize your comparative essay.

Point-by-Point Method 

The point-by-point or alternating method provides a detailed overview of the items that you are comparing. In this method, organize items in terms of similarities and differences.

This method makes the writing phase easy for the writer to handle two completely different essay subjects. It is highly recommended where some depth and detail are required.

Below given is the structure of the point-by-point method. 

Block Method 

The block method is the easiest as compared to the point-by-point method. In this method, you divide the information in terms of parameters. It means that the first paragraph compares the first subject and all their items, then the second one compares the second, and so on.

However, make sure that you write the subject in the same order. This method is best for lengthy essays and complicated subjects.

Here is the structure of the block method. 

Therefore, keep these methods in mind and choose the one according to the chosen subject.

Mixed Paragraphs Method

In this method, one paragraph explains one aspect of the subject. As a writer, you will handle one point at a time and one by one. This method is quite beneficial as it allows you to give equal weightage to each subject and help the readers identify the point of comparison easily.

How to Start a Comparative Essay?

Here, we have gathered some steps that you should follow to start a well-written comparative essay.  

Choose a Topic

The foremost step in writing a comparative essay is to choose a suitable topic.

Choose a topic or theme that is interesting to write about and appeals to the reader. 

An interesting essay topic motivates the reader to know about the subject. Also, try to avoid complicated topics for your comparative essay. 

Develop a List of Similarities and Differences 

Create a list of similarities and differences between two subjects that you want to include in the essay. Moreover, this list helps you decide the basis of your comparison by constructing your initial plan. 

Evaluate the list and establish your argument and thesis statement .

Establish the Basis for Comparison 

The basis for comparison is the ground for you to compare the subjects. In most cases, it is assigned to you, so check your assignment or prompt.

Furthermore, the main goal of the comparison essay is to inform the reader of something interesting. It means that your subject must be unique to make your argument interesting.  

Do the Research 

In this step, you have to gather information for your subject. If your comparative essay is about social issues, historical events, or science-related topics, you must do in-depth research.    

However, make sure that you gather data from credible sources and cite them properly in the essay.

Create an Outline

An essay outline serves as a roadmap for your essay, organizing key elements into a structured format.

With your topic, list of comparisons, basis for comparison, and research in hand, the next step is to create a comprehensive outline. 

Here is a standard comparative essay outline:

How to Write a Comparative Essay?

Now that you have the basic information organized in an outline, you can get started on the writing process. 

Here are the essential parts of a comparative essay: 

Comparative Essay Introduction 

Start off by grabbing your reader's attention in the introduction . Use something catchy, like a quote, question, or interesting fact about your subjects. 

Then, give a quick background so your reader knows what's going on. 

The most important part is your thesis statement, where you state the main argument , the basis for comparison, and why the comparison is significant.

This is what a typical thesis statement for a comparative essay looks like:

Comparative Essay Body Paragraphs 

The body paragraphs are where you really get into the details of your subjects. Each paragraph should focus on one thing you're comparing.

Start by talking about the first point of comparison. Then, go on to the next points. Make sure to talk about two to three differences to give a good picture.

After that, switch gears and talk about the things they have in common. Just like you discussed three differences, try to cover three similarities. 

This way, your essay stays balanced and fair. This approach helps your reader understand both the ways your subjects are different and the ways they are similar. Keep it simple and clear for a strong essay.

Comparative Essay Conclusion

In your conclusion , bring together the key insights from your analysis to create a strong and impactful closing.

Consider the broader context or implications of the subjects' differences and similarities. What do these insights reveal about the broader themes or ideas you're exploring?

Discuss the broader implications of these findings and restate your thesis. Avoid introducing new information and end with a thought-provoking statement that leaves a lasting impression.

Below is the detailed comparative essay template format for you to understand better.

Comparative Essay Format

Comparative Essay Examples

Have a look at these comparative essay examples pdf to get an idea of the perfect essay.

Comparative Essay on Summer and Winter

Comparative Essay on Books vs. Movies

Comparative Essay Sample

Comparative Essay Thesis Example

Comparative Essay on Football vs Cricket

Comparative Essay on Pet and Wild Animals

Comparative Essay Topics

Comparative essay topics are not very difficult or complex. Check this list of essay topics and pick the one that you want to write about.

  • How do education and employment compare?
  • Living in a big city or staying in a village.
  • The school principal or college dean.
  • New Year vs. Christmas celebration.
  • Dried Fruit vs. Fresh. Which is better?
  • Similarities between philosophy and religion.
  • British colonization and Spanish colonization.
  • Nuclear power for peace or war?
  • Bacteria or viruses.
  • Fast food vs. homemade food.

Tips for Writing A Good Comparative Essay

Writing a compelling comparative essay requires thoughtful consideration and strategic planning. Here are some valuable tips to enhance the quality of your comparative essay:

  • Clearly define what you're comparing, like themes or characters.
  • Plan your essay structure using methods like point-by-point or block paragraphs.
  • Craft an introduction that introduces subjects and states your purpose.
  • Ensure an equal discussion of both similarities and differences.
  • Use linking words for seamless transitions between paragraphs.
  • Gather credible information for depth and authenticity.
  • Use clear and simple language, avoiding unnecessary jargon.
  • Dedicate each paragraph to a specific point of comparison.
  • Summarize key points, restate the thesis, and emphasize significance.
  • Thoroughly check for clarity, coherence, and correct any errors.

Transition Words For Comparative Essays

Transition words are crucial for guiding your reader through the comparative analysis. They help establish connections between ideas and ensure a smooth flow in your essay. 

Here are some transition words and phrases to improve the flow of your comparative essay:

Transition Words for Similarities

  • Correspondingly
  • In the same vein
  • In like manner
  • In a similar fashion
  • In tandem with

Transition Words for Differences

  • On the contrary
  • In contrast
  • Nevertheless
  • In spite of
  • Notwithstanding
  • On the flip side
  • In contradistinction

Check out this blog listing more transition words that you can use to enhance your essay’s coherence!

In conclusion, now that you have the important steps and helpful tips to write a good comparative essay, you can start working on your own essay. 

However, if you find it tough to begin, you can always hire our professional essay writing service . 

Our skilled writers can handle any type of essay or assignment you need. So, don't wait—place your order now and make your academic journey easier!

Frequently Asked Question

How long is a comparative essay.

A comparative essay is 4-5 pages long, but it depends on your chosen idea and topic.

How do you end a comparative essay?

Here are some tips that will help you to end the comparative essay.

  • Restate the thesis statement
  • Wrap up the entire essay
  • Highlight the main points

Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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Comparative Analysis of Political Systems: Writing Hints

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When the students are supposed to compare two complex structures, like two political systems, they often feel lost, not knowing where to start. However, the task always seems harder before you have started working on it. Here is the article that might be helpful, in case you need some hints on how to write a comparative essay about politics.

First of all, here are the general features of any type of essay:

  • Presence of a problem or a topic the essay should be written on;
  • Small size (usually only a couple of pages);
  • Wide look on the problem, thorough analysis of all the crucial aspects;
  • Personal perception of the problem and individual approach to its solutions;
  • Deep understanding and a high level of awareness regarding the subject;
  • Logical structure, non-contradictory arguments;
  • Conclusion, that corresponds to the key points of the essay and the main idea the author was trying to prove.

writing a paper

The steps you need to follow while writing the essay are:

  • Writing a draft
  • Analysis of the text you have completed
  • Checking the style and the structure. Analyzing the choice of arguments and adding stronger ones if needed.
  • Finish working on the paper, having created a final variant of your essay.

As you see, the secret of writing a good essay lies in its structure. In order to compose an essay about political systems, you will need to consider the following points for the outline of your paper, so the structure is flawless and the arguments chosen are logical and convincing.

Do you have specific aspects to compare or you are free to choose them? In case you need a help with the aspects of political systems to analyze, here are some:

  • History and origin;
  • The authority division;
  • Main tenets of the systems;

Or you can choose more specific ones, for example:

  • Freedom of speech in two political systems;
  • Democracy in USA and Europe: what is the difference?

two politics meet

  • Create a general scheme of the arguments you are going to use. In order to make your essay convincing, try using one or two arguments that touches upon different life aspects, like education, economy, foreign affairs, religion, social equality and so on.
  • Write down the thesis you want to prove in your comparative essay. This sentence will be guiding you while researching for the essay. You will need to choose the arguments that can prove your point, but at the same time be fair and critically think them through before including into your paper.
  • Choose various reliable sources. It is better, if the sources are of the different types, like history books, articles, interviews and statistic data.

That’s it! If you follow these simple steps, the essay will be completed at the highest quality!

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  • A Research Guide
  • Writing Guide
  • Essay Writing

How to Write a Comparative Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

  • What is comparative essay
  • Structure and outline
  • Tips how to start
  • Step-by-step guide
  • Comparative essay format
  • Comparative essay topics
  • Comparative essay example

What is a Comparative Essay?

How to write a comparison essay: structure and outline.

  • The topic sentence should introduce the reader to what the paragraph handles.
  • A discussion of the aspect is done in the middle of a paragraph.
  • The last part of the paragraph should carry a low-level conclusion about the aspect discussed in the paragraph.
  • The paragraph should present enough information, as too much or too less may render it meaningless.
  • Every paragraph should handle a single aspect, e.g., it is quite unreasonable to compare the size of one object to the color of another .

Tips on How to Start a Comparative Essay

Step-by-step writing guide to write a comparative analysis, step 1: identify the basis of the comparison..

  • For example, a question may ask you to compare capitalism and communism and write the arguments. This question has a clear objective; hence you don’t have to go the extra mile.
  • Another case may be to compare any two political ideologies. It is a general question, and you have to figure out the various political ideologies and then identify any two that you can compare. Such instances require the author to develop the basis of comparison by themselves and write it down.

Step 2: Develop the content of the essay.

Step 3: come up with a thesis., step 4: develop the comparative essay structure., step 5: write your compare essay..

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Comparative Essay Format

Alternating method;.

  • Gives more details about the item in comparison, making it easy to handle two different points;
  • Produces a well-analyzed and integrated paper.
  • Cases where detailed comparison is needed;
  • When the points of comparison are not related.

Mixed paragraphs method;

  • gives the issues equal weights in terms of comparison;
  • the reader gets to identify the comparison factor easily.
  • When dealing with a long comparative essay;
  • When dealing with complex topics that need close attention.

Block Method;

  • When dealing with short essays;
  • When dealing with simple topics;
  • Cases where there is no clear relation between items of comparison of point one and point two;
  • When you want to build the ideas of question two from those highlighted for question one;
  • When dealing with many issues.

Comparative Essay Topics

  • Compare and contrast the GDP figures of the US and Australia.
  • A comparative essay on World War I and World War II events.
  • Comparison between political ideologies such as capitalism and communism.
  • Positions on issues, e.g., Healthcare in the US and Australia.
  • Comparison between various Sports teams.
  • Different Systems of Government.
  • Comparison between various influential people.
  • A comparative essay on religion, e.g., Christianity and Hinduism,
  • Comparison between various texts,
  • Comparison in technology, such as comparing different cars,

Comparative Essay Example (Clarified)

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  • Essay on Government

Example Of Essay On Comparative Politics

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Government , Communism , Freedom , Venture Capital , Banking , Democracy , Science , Politics

Words: 1200

Published: 08/04/2021

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Comparative politics is a science that seeks to analyze or measure the level goodness, or otherwise, of a government regime. It systematically analyzes the nature of these governing authorities through comparison with other regimes that exist in the world. This means that the science seeks to highlight the patterns, similarities and differences among various regimes. However, this field of study is not purely a science; or rather, it is difficult to classify it as science due to several reasons. First, a science requires the carrying out of experimental research to determine the authenticity of preset hypotheses. Comparative politics involves parameters that are difficult to measure. This is because politics is a very subjective area of study. Science requires the variation of independent variables to determine their effect on certain factors. For politics, the variables that determine the outcome cannot be manipulated. This is especially so because one cannot determine the policies and manner of governance that a certain regime will implement. The unpredictable nature of the outcome of various modes of governance limits the study of comparative politics as a science. This means that researchers cannot come up with principles or laws that can be applied to a nation that opts to use a certain mode of governance. Research shows that this unpredictable nature is closely related to the subjectivity of this field. Furthermore, experiments concerned with politics cannot be modeled in a laboratory. This is a crucial area of people’s lives and subjecting the operation of certain regime to manipulation may turn out to be catastrophic. The effects are irreversible and hence researchers are forced to work with historical data on past regimes. They use such data to draw pattern and possible conclusions.

States exist to enable the devolution of funds and development to all areas of the country. The idea came to solve the problem that arose with the existence of a central system of government. Only certain areas of the country benefited from development ventures. Remote and rural areas never received any fruit of economic development. People from such areas felt isolated and neglected by the government. The country’s GDP belonged to a few elite individuals and meant little to most of the normal people struggling to make ends meet. Therefore, to increase equity in the country and to ensure optimum redistribution of wealth, the state system was set up. This involved the establishment of smaller governments that catered for the needs of the people in a state. This encourages the locals to work harder in their day-to-day businesses as the government ensured adequate provision of infrastructure and social amenities.

However, much as the country has become accustomed to the use of states in governance, it is possible for people to do without them. This is especially so if the reigning regime has sufficient controls on the disbursement of funds to all areas of the country. However, in the absence of such controls the state system is the best option of governance, especially in large countries. The states allow for easy governance. However, they are disadvantageous when it comes to the freedom to have different rules and constitutions. This results in an element of disunity. If this system were to disappear, it would probably be replaced by a system that distinguishes the states as independent countries comprising a larger political unit. Such a political unit would have no trade barriers, free movement of citizens but different rules and governments.

Authoritarian rule is the dictating of governance by a small minority or even a single person. It is best manifested in dictatorship and in some monarchies. This kind of rule may be slightly beneficial if the leader is a good economist. This may result in economic growth of the country. However, this form of leadership should never be legitimate. This is because of the massive infringement of people’s rights that occur due to lack of a democracy. Furthermore, there are no checks for errors, poor decision-making and misappropriation of public funds. This means that the efficiency of most public bodies would be poor and wastage would be at an all-time high. Legitimizing such a kind of governance would discourage any form of innovation and kill the growth that spurs from competition.

All people should live under a democracy. This is because system represents the interests of the majority. The rights of citizens are most pronounced under this form of governance. Democracies encourage the challenging of decisions made by the ruling government. This ensures that the views of the citizens are represented and misappropriation of funds is kept minimal or avoided completely. Various benefits accrue from having most countries as democracies. Business partnerships and trade agreements can be forged among such democracies. This promotes national development and raises the standards of living. However, in some instances democracies may result in some form of mob rule. This is especially so when formation of certain cartels limits the equal representation of people’s opinions (the minority) and preferences. Furthermore, democracies may allow neglect of the subject matter of a point of discussion due to emphasis on the strength of numbers. People may support views that they do not fathom.

One of the main reasons why communism failed is because it was impossible for one to own private property. This move was supposed to encourage equality and discourage embezzlement of public funds for private use. However, this ignored the fact that ownership of private property encourages people to work harder. Citizens were to work on land, rear animals and grow crops that belonged to the state. This was very demotivating especially since it was impossible for one to reap the fruit of one’s labor. Furthermore, there were very many limitations on freedom of worship. This limited people’s freedom of religion and expression. Although the system provided free social amenities and food, the standard of living was very low. Life without freedom is not as enjoyable as one with freedom, even with the availability of basic needs.

Communism sucked ambition out of people’s lives. It was compulsory to work and impossible to enjoy even the smallest of luxuries. This was demotivating and frustrating. This made many people feel imprisoned and trapped in a vicious and lifeless cycle. Corruption was synonymous to communism due to the lack of capitalistic competition. The economy and education system become crippled by corruption and performance no longer become a determinant of being successful. These were some of the flaws in the principles of communism. Its high level of strictness resulted in wastages and corruption. The onus of the failure of this system does not rest squarely on the shoulders of those in power. Employees at each level became corrupt since this as the only way to become rich and make something for oneself. In view of all these flaws, communism could not deliver on its theoretical aspects because it ignored the role of freedom and ambition in personal and state development.

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how to write a comparative politics essay

How to answer 12 Mark Question on Paper 3 US and UK Comparative Politics

This structure and advice  has been informed by a Politics Review article by Nick da Souza.

There are two types of 12 mark question that you would be expected to answer and both appear in paper three. These questions require you to compare the way government and politics work in the UK with that of the US.

In section A of the paper, you have to answer one 12 mark question from a choice of two. The command word in section A is examine so these are not evaluative questions so you do not need AO3 skills to come up with an answer.

You also do not need to use  comparative theories for these questions.

You have to compare both the US and UK in every paragraph in these questions. I suggest three mini paragraphs and since it is only worth 12 marks you should only spend 15 minutes on the question. So five minutes per paragraph.

 Now in section B, you also have a 12 mark question to answer. But in this question, you have no choice of question. You just have to answer what you see on the paper. Again, you have to compare both the US and the UK in every paragraph.

But in this section, the command word is analyse . So the first word of the question will always be analyse in section B. All this means is that you have to use comparative theories.

I will go through what structural, rational and cultural theories mean a little later. Essentially, the two 12 mark questions you have to answer, the one in section A, the one in section B are virtually the same in form and approach saved for the use of these theories in section B

 You should try to write three paragraphs  covering three similarities or three differences between the two countries, depending on what the question is asking you to focus on. Each paragraph should take a different theme that relates to what you're being asked to compare.

Some examples are from 2022

a)Examine the differences in the checks and balances on the US Congress and the UK Parliament.

b) Examine the ways in which the methods used by US interest groups and UK pressure groups differ.

 The 2022 a)  question is about the two legislatures  the UK Parliament and the US Congress. This question is also a good example of way you need to be careful when reading the question, because it is asking you to compare checks and balances ‘on’ Congress and Parliament, so it would be very easy to write more generally about checks and balance which might led you to include checks by Parliament and Congress on the other branches. So to be clear: this checks on the legislatures.

The first paragraph might focus on the way  the executives can exert control over the legislatures.

The second paragraph could be centred on the checks imposed by elections e.g unelected Lords lacking legitimacy and a House elected every two years to very conscious of re-election pressure.

The third paragraph  could cover the courts ability to check the legislature e.g ultra vires.

So, each paragraph should have a theme that is relevant to the question.

It’s important to use comparative language. For similarities use word such as ‘similarly’ and ‘likewise’ If you're being asked to compare the differences, use words such as, ‘by contrast’  ‘on the other hand’ and ‘on the contrary’ or ‘unsimilar’ or ‘differently’.

For example you might write:

In the US presidents have few checks on Congress, although they can veto bills this can be overridden for example of President Trump’s 10 vetoes one was overridden but vetoes remain rare in comparison to the number so bills passed, this is very different in the UK where between 2019 and 2022 the Johnson government suffered no legislative defeats.

You are being asked to compare both countries so you must make these comparisons in each paragraph directly. Don’t say something about Parliament then something else about Congress in different paragraphs.

Equally, you should give examples for both the US and the UK.

There are also marks for analysis AO2 so you have to explain why

the US and UK are different or similar. The example above only explained how they are similar.

You  must explain why.

  So  you must go beyond simply noting the similarities or differences, which is required for A01, and explain why these similarities and differences exist.

For example with the above question .

The US Congress has considerably more ability to act independently  than the UK Parliament because of the separation of powers in the constitution which means the executive has limited control and no ability to promote members of Congress to the Cabinet, whereas in the UK the legislative and executive branch are fused which means the government has considerable control through the use of patronage and the ‘carrot and stick’ by the whips.

Notice how the words ‘Because’  and ‘which means’ are  used. Other phrases such as ‘due to’ and ‘owing to’ will show that you are explaining the reasons for similarities or differences as opposed to just simply listing them. These words or phrases will help you get the highest levels for A02.

You won't usually be asked to compare similarities and differences in the same question. So if the question is examine the similarities in the power of the UK Prime Minister and US President, you only need to write about the similarities, not the differences.

You may get a bland question that doesn't specifically require similarities or differences,

For example 2021

Examine the features of the US and UK Supreme Courts designed to ensure independence from political influence

·   Similar: security of tenure- judges are difficult to sack.

·   Similar: doctrine of the ‘rule of law’

·   Different: While in the UK and USA appointments are not made by the executive in the US politicians make the appointments  whereas in the UK an independent commission appoints.

In this case you could use both similarities and differences, but you’re not expected to evaluate how far they are similar or different. There are no AO3 marks in these questions so you do not need to provide counter arguments. A good tip is don’t use the word ‘however’ since this is a word that naturally leads to a counter argument that isn't required in these questions. The word however, is an essential word for 30 mark questions that require balance, require two-sided arguments.  And so you do not have to come to a decision like you do in  longer 30 mark  essays. You do not have to reach a judgment unlike in every other type of question that you have to answer in papers one, two and three.

 There is no need for an introduction or a conclusion. You don't have time either. Remember, it's just 15 minutes that you should spend on these questions, 15 minutes for section A, 12 mark question, 15 minutes for the section B, 12 mark questions.

Section B questions start with the word analyse, which means you will be expected to use comparative theories.

These are theories that help explain why a similarity or difference exists between the US and the UK.. There are three of them.

 First, the structural theory refers to the processes, the practices and the institutions that affect the actions taken, that affect the outcome. In other words the political setup of a country, for example, if there is a codified constitution or an uncodified constitution, affects how things work, affects the outcomes.

And then number two, you have the rational theory. Now, what this means or what this refers to are the actions of individuals motivated by self-interest. In other words it means politicians are essentially selfish and try to further their own careers, their own electoral fortunes.

Finally there is the cultural theory. And this refers to the shared ideologies of groups within a political system or wider community. In other words it means a country's culture or a faction of a political party that affects party policies.

You only need to choose one theory in your 12 mark question for section B. You can just refer to structural all the way through if you want to and you can get 12 out of 12. You can use more if you want, if you feel it's appropriate. But this theory must be applied to both countries. Ideally, you would mention the theory in each of the three paragraphs you write. So for the section B questions, you probably want one extra sentence compared with the section A questions. The best way to do this is to simply mention the theory at the end of each paragraph you write using the following sentence starter.

‘This similarity, stroke difference, is most commonly explained by the (name of theory) theory because in the UK, …………. whereas in the US,…………. ‘

Now, let's apply this sentence starter to the same question on the checks and balances in the legislature

The greater power exercised by Congress over legislation is most easily explained by this structural theory because in the USA, the constitution is codified and describes a separation of powers whereas in the UK the legislature and executive branches are fused which means the legislative process is controlled by the government.

Don’t worry about which theory to choose as long as you explain why you chose it. Remember that the word ‘because’ is your friend, keep using it. For example

The greater power exercised by Congress over legislation is most commonly explained by the rational theory because in the US, it makes more sense for members of Congress to follow the interests of their constituents since the president cannot use patronage to exercise control unlike in the UK where an the PM can rely on an MP’s seeing their rational best interests being in party loyalty .

Using them allows you access to the highest level when examiners award marks. So if you fail to mention a theory, you can still get, in theory, nine out of 12 marks for a really good answer. Indeed, it is important to put 12 mark questions in their appropriate context taken together. They represent only 24 out of the 84 marks for paper three. That's just 29% of the marks for paper three. So make sure you spend far more time and revision on the two 30 mark questions that you'll have to answer for that paper.

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  1. PDF Guidelines for research papers

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  7. PDF Why Comparative Politics?

    Comparative politics has increasingly turned to the comparison of either a few carefully selected countries or a large number of them. To study a number of countries using both type A and type B electoral systems, we can concentrate on a few countries which are very similar in most of their characteristics but

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    1. Concept Application: Applying political concepts and processes to real-life situations. 2. Country Comparison: Compare political concepts and processes to the course's six core countries. 3. Data Analysis: Analyze and interpret quantitative data represented in a variety of mediums—such as tables, charts, graphs, maps, and infographics. 4.

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    A comparison essay compares and contrasts two things. That is, it points out the similarities and differences (mostly focusing on the differences) of those two things. The two things usually belong to the same class (ex. two cities, two politicians, two sports, etc.). Relatively equal attention is given to the two subjects being compared.

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    6. Chapter 8: Comparative Politics. Comparative politics centers its inquiry into politics around a method, not a particular object of study. This makes it unique since all the other subfields are orientated around a subject or focus of study. The comparative method is one of four main methodological approaches in the sciences (the others being ...

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    General prompt Discuss the effects of the Great Depression in the United States. One way to approach this essay might be to contrast the situation before the Great Depression with the situation during it, to highlight how large a difference it made.

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    November 5, 2019. The study of comparative politics has been primarily concerned thus far with the formal institutions of foreign governments, particularly of Western Europe. In this sense it has been not only limited but also primarily descriptive and formalistic. Its place in the field of political science has been ill-defined.

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    How to Write a Comparative Essay? 5. Comparative Essay Examples 6. Comparative Essay Topics 7. Tips for Writing A Good Comparative Essay 8. Transition Words For Comparative Essays What is a Comparative Essay? A comparative essay is a type of essay in which an essay writer compares at least two or more items.

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  19. 12 Mark (Q 2)- Using at Least One Comparative Theory (A Level Politics

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    A few examples of political theories include these: Anarchism. Conservatism. Liberalism. Libertarianism. Objectivism. Populism. Political essays can be persuasive essays, with the goal of guiding the reader to agree with a specific position. In some cases, they're analytical essays.

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    Step-by-step guide Comparative essay format Comparative essay topics Comparative essay example You should know what a comparative essay is before you get to writing. A comparative essay is composed of many paragraphs explaining how two subjects are either similar or different.

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    ORDER PAPER LIKE THIS Question 1 Comparative politics is a science that seeks to analyze or measure the level goodness, or otherwise, of a government regime. It systematically analyzes the nature of these governing authorities through comparison with other regimes that exist in the world.

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    There are two types of 12 mark question that you would be expected to answer and both appear in paper three. These questions require you to compare the way government and politics work in the UK with that of the US. In section A of the paper, you have to answer one 12 mark question from a choice of two. The command word in section A is examine ...