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The purpose of a compare and contrast essay is to analyze the differences and/or the similarities of two distinct subjects.
This method is probably the one most students try first, but many evolve past it into something more flexible.
A quick outline that treats first corsets and then footbinding shows one way that such a paper might be structured.
You can, and probably do, use comparison and contrast to describe things, to define things, to analyze things, to make an argument -- to do, in fact, almost any kind of writing.
When they are comparing and contrasting, for example, two ideas, like corsets and footbinding, most writers structure their essays one of four ways. Writers using a comparison/contrast structure might begin by discussing the ways in which corsets are similar to footbinding, then they move to a description of the ways in which the two ideas are different.
In a comparison essay you should critically analyze any two subjects, finding and pointing out their similarities and/or differences.
Depending on your assignment, such essays can be comparative only (looking only at similarities), contrasting only (pointing out the differences) or both comparative and contrasting.
It is as if the writer is comparing and contrasting (for example) footbinding to corsetry, instead of corsetry and footbinding to each other.
Write only about the comparable and contrastable elements of each idea.
This method is probably the one used most commonly.
A quick outline comparing and then contrasting corsets and footbinding shows one way that such a paper might be structured.