How to Write an Outline for a Comparison Paper in Literature

by Michael Stratford

Writing an essay without an outline is like road tripping without a map; it's even more difficult if you're traveling between points of comparison. To write a successful comparison paper, you need a thesis that powers both the essay and the clear pathway of evidence that compels your reader to buy into your thesis. If you're writing a topic outline, you'll need only single words; a sentence outline includes whole sentences.

Outlining the Comparison Paper

Hook your reader right away with an attention-grabbing statement -- included in your sentence outline. Identify your pieces of literature with title and author. Write a thesis statement arguing what the works have in common, based on your analysis or assignment: "Shakespeare's Iago and Coleridge's Ancient Mariner are similar, as both are unreliable narrators," for example. In sentence outline form, the Introduction is (a) the hook sentence, (b) title and author and (c) thesis. Write a, b and c as hanging indents, five spaces in, throughout the outline.

Start body paragraphs one and two with topic sentences that identify the work. Sample topic sentence: "Shakespeare's Iago lies to Othello, the reader and himself." Cite examples from the text -- act, scene and line number -- and add commentary. At paragraph's end, transition to the next paragraph. In sentence outline form, body paragraphs one and two consist of (a) the topic sentence identifying the work and discussion points; (b) the textual evidence, cited; (c) explanation or commentary sentences and d. the transitional sentence. Repeat sections b and c twice before d for a full paragraph.

Analyze the two pieces together in the next paragraphs, and point out the significant similarities your research discovered. Use the same evidence or commentary pattern as in previous paragraphs. In your closing paragraph, reword your thesis in light of the evidence and summarize your main points. In sentence outline form, you will write body paragraphs three and four with (a) your analytical sentence comparing the two pieces, (b) a citation and (c) the commentary, not included in the outline.

Add a closing statement that affirms you have proven your point. The closing paragraph section of your outline needs few words and no sentences. It consists of (a) your reworded thesis statement, which your outline does not include; (b) your summary, not included and (c) your closing statement, also not included.

Items you will need
  • Excerpts of literature you will compare
  • Computer with Microsoft Word or similar writing program


  • You need not write commentaries or closing paragraphs in your sentence outline; your essay's content and the evidence you research decides how you will write those.


  • Stick to one piece of literature in body paragraphs one and two; combining analyses before paragraph three confuses the reader.

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