How To Write A Comparative Essay In Mla Format

General Tips For Creating A Compare And Contrast Essay In The MLA Format

MLA formatting style is very specific. Beyond the guidelines for writing a Compare and Contrast essay, the formatting style will affect your presentation other than the content. Failure to follow this style consistently attracts hefty penalties and will affect your performance. Here are tips to ensure that your paper meets the highest expected standards.

Document Setting

The entire document should be produced with 1 inch margin throughout. This requirement can be fulfilled by altering your default word processor settings. This ensures that the entire document maintains this formatting style. The whole document should also be double spaced. Do not include extra spaces between paragraphs. The recommended font is Times New Romans which should be twelve points.

Page Header

All pages should be numbered consecutively and placed in the upper right hand corner. They should be flushed with the right margin and be half an inch from the top. Some instructors may require the numbers to be omitted from the first page. Follow the demands by your instructor in such a case. The details to be included in the header are your last name and page number.


Cited works with long titles are denoted using italics. Italics can also be used to emphasize a point when it is absolutely necessary. If your work needs end notes, they should be included on a separate page after that of Works Cited. When citing a website, indicate the title of the article and the date of access. Inform the reader that the citation is from a website by including the word ‘web’ in your citation. Ensure that the citations are detailed and informative. It should be easier for any reader to track the source including the volume, year of publication, author and title of the book.


Unless your instructor demands a title page, it is not necessary. In case your essay is divided into sections, they should be labeled using Arabic numbers that is followed by a period. The headings should be grammatically similar in that, they are either short or long. In case you use multiple level layering, include these details on the table of content to direct the reader.

MLA formatting style is very specific when citing books, journals, websites and other sources. You must provide all details necessary to guide the reader to your information source. The format should be used consistently throughout the essay.

How to Write an Effective Compare and Contrast Paper

While you may believe that a compare and contrast paper is the easiest type to write by simply comparing things that are alike and things that are different, there’s more to it than that. The whole point of the exercise is to have you explain why the similarities and differences matter. Your ultimate goal is to create meaningful connections to a larger issue, using your comparisons or contrasts as a means to argue a case. Your professors may ask you to find the differences or similarities between two things, or they may ask for the differences and similarities. Once your subject has been defined, create your thesis statement containing the idea or claim that unites the discussion and includes the argument that you are making in support of the claim.

Choose Your Organizational Style

You can arrange your ideas in a compare and contrast paper using either the alternating or tandem style. There is no rule about selecting one method over another, but for papers over five or six pages you should probably use the alternating style. This will help the reader follow the pertinent information about each side of your argument more easily. The tandem pattern is suitable for shorter papers.

The Alternating Style

This style is also known as the point-by-point style and is usually written in five or more paragraphs. Let’s suppose you are writing a paper comparing the differences between attending a major university versus a local community college. Start with your opening paragraph, which will include your thesis. Then write a paragraph about the first difference between the university and the community college in the same sentence. For example, a sizable university may offer a prestigious course study while a community college may provide a smaller class size and more affordable tuition. Discuss the point, comparing backwards and forwards between the university and the community college in each sentence. The following paragraph will address the next difference or similarity. Use as many paragraphs as you need to discuss each point.

The Tandem Style

The tandem style of organization, also known as the block style, is often written in four paragraphs. To demonstrate, let’s use our example of comparing attending a major university versus a local community college. When using the tandem style, start with your opening paragraph, which again must include your thesis. Then, write about attending the university in the second paragraph and enrolling in the community college in the third. Any point you make in the paragraph about the university you must also make in the paragraph about the community college and in the same order. For example, you may discuss the large class size of a major university in one paragraph followed by a paragraph discussing the smaller class sizes of a community college. Finish with your concluding paragraph, which generally reaffirms your thesis in new words and demonstrates how you’ve proven it.

Support your analysis by providing textual support for each point you address. You can either use direct quotes from text or you can paraphrase, but you must remember to cite each source correctly. A compare and contrast paper often requires that you use the MLA formatting style. However, make sure you confirm which citation style your professor requires. If you aren’t up to speed on the latest MLA formatting guidelines, there is software available for you to apply the most current guidelines with just a couple of clicks of your mouse, helping you to avoid any deduction in points for formatting issues.

David Plaut

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to:
info @

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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