Brainstorming with a friend can help you identify a strong thesis.
Compare and contrast essays are challenging assignments because you have to organize an argument that draws upon your ability to synthesize two situations into one argument, your thesis. Forming your thesis is the most crucial aspect of writing these types of essays, as your decision will determine how the entire essay will be written. Developing a strong, specific thesis requires careful planning.
Understand the Assignment
Before you can even select a topic, you need to make sure you understand exactly what your teacher has asked you to do. For example, if you haven't been instructed to compare any specific texts or elements within a specific text, you have a wide range of possibilities. However, if you've been assigned to compare specific items, such as the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms in "Gulliver's Travels," you have to make sure your objectives are clear. Make sure you understand the length of the assigned essay as well, as it can help determine whether or not your thesis will be appropriate.
Brainstorm Broad Topics
Once you understand the parameters of
the assignment, you can begin brainstorming. First, write down everything you know about your subjects, and then narrow down your ideas according to which ones seem edgier, and more importantly, why. For example, if you're comparing teacher- and student-centered approaches to education, try to identify why the teacher-centered approach might be more effective even though student-centered teaching is considered more progressive. If you haven't been assigned a specific subject, start by writing down topics that really interest you. You want to write about subjects to care about because an essay that is meaningful to you often translates into impassioned writing that can move your audience as well.
Identify a Specific Thesis
After you've worked through your ideas in lists and loose notes, you can refine your ideas to form a specific argument that you can prove, point by point, in your essay. For example, if you your thesis states that Patanjali's, "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali" contributes as much to our current understanding of human psychology as William James's, "The Principles of Psychology," you can then cite specific examples in each text to support your claim.
Determine the Rhetorical Situation