In the time allotted, complete one of the following brainstorming activities:

  • Defining terms Although this suggestion is simple and may seem obvious, it is often overlooked. Write definitions for key terms or concepts in your own words. How are your terms articulated in other ways? Are there similar concepts? After you list your 2 main definitions, come up with a few sub topics or similar topics based on what you will be comparing and contrasting, and list and define them.
  • Cubing This technique helps you look at your subject from six different points of view (imagine the 6 sides of a cube and you get the idea). Take your topic or idea and 1) describe it, 2) compare/contrast it with something else, 3) associate it with something else you know, 4) analyze it (meaning break it into parts), 5) apply it to a situation you are familiar with, 6) argue for or against it. Write at a paragraph, page, or more about each of the six points of view on your subject.
  • Free-writing Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Choose a topic, idea, question you would like to consider. It can be a specific detail or a broad concept-whatever you are interested in exploring at the moment. Write for 5-7 minutes non-stop on that topic. If you get stuck and don’t know what to say next, write “I’m stuck and don’t know what to say next…” or try asking yourself “what else?” until another idea comes to you. Do not concern yourself with spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Your goal is to generate as much as you can about the topic in a short period of time and to get used to the feeling of articulating ideas on the page. It’s ok if it’s messy or makes sense only to you. You can repeat this exercise several times, using the same or a variety of topics connecting to your subject. Read what you have written to see if you have discovered anything about your subject or found a line of questioning you’d like to pursue.
  • Clustering/Webbing Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Put a word you’d like to explore in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. As fast as you can, free-associate or jot down anywhere on the page as many words as you can think of associated with your center word. If you get stuck, go back to the center word and launch again. Speed is important and quantity is your goal. Don’t discount any word or phrase that comes to you, just put it down on the page. Jot words for between 5-7 minutes. When you are finished you will have a page filled with seemingly random words. Read around on the page and see if you have discovered anything or can see connections between any ideas.


The use of transitions in writing is even more important in a compare/contrast essay because your reader will need a clear indication of what it is similar and what is different (Kirsner & Mandell). Without the use of these transitions, it will be difficult for the reader to follow your comparison, and they will be likely to miss the point. Be sure to use the following transitions in your essay:


  • in comparison
  • like
  • in the same way
  • like was
  • just as/so
  • similarly


  • although
  • nevertheless
  • nonetheless
  • conversely
  • on the contrary
  • despite
  • on the one hand... on the other hand
  • even though
  • still
  • however
  • unlike
  • in contrast
  • whereas
  • instead
  • yet