Understanding the difference between compare and contrast in an essay is itself an exercise in comparing and contrasting.
Comparison essays answer these questions:
What is the same about two or more things? (Compare)
What is different about two or more things? (Contrast)
Let's dig a little deeper with some examples!
1. Compare the Similarities
You might have heard someone say, "That's comparing apples and oranges!" to say that two things are too different to compare.
To combat that, let's look at all the ways they're the same.
Apples and oranges (are) both:
grown on trees
about the same size
about the same weight
contain vitamin C
This is what is meant by "compare" in a compare/contrast essay.
2. Contrast the Differences
If we compare two things, it's helpful to also contrast their differences.
Sticking with apples and oranges, we can look at them side by side, thinking about how they are different:
are red, green, or yellow
are crisp and crunchy
have high in fiber
have higher vitamin A
peel can be eaten
are pulpy and soft
have less fiber
have higher vitamin C and potassium
peel isn't usually eaten
This is what is meant by contrast in a compare/contrast essay.
"Both apples and oranges contain vitamin C, while oranges contain 140% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C but apples only contain 7%." Does this statement represent compare, or contrast?
Venn Diagrams Can Help
When you're brainstorming ideas for your compare/contrast essay, try using a Venn diagram like the one below to organize your ideas.
This can help you decide which ideas contrast (left and right side) and which compare (the section in the middle).
To hear an audio description of the text in the Venn diagram above, click the play button on the audio player below.
What's the Point?
When there are many areas of comparison/contrast, we need to figure out how to organize the comparison.
With apples and oranges, we can see three points of comparison:
Physical characteristics (size, shape, color) 🍎 🍊
Taste characteristics (juicy, sweet, tart, soft, crisp) 👅 👄
Nutritional characteristics (vitamins and mineral content) ⚖️ 👩⚕️
If there aren't enough areas of comparison to make points, you can use the individual similarities/differences as your points.
Putting it Together
Now that you know the points of comparison, you can organize them in one of two ways in your essay: Point-by-Point or Block-by-Block.
Each paragraph discusses all the points of one subject (in this case, apples then oranges):
Each paragraph discusses both subjects (in this case, apples and oranges) for each point:
Apples' physical, taste, and nutritional characteristics
Oranges' physical, taste, and nutritional characteristics
Read the following sentences from a paragraph and identify what kind of method, point-by-point or block-by-block, it would fit into:
"In terms of nutrition, apples and oranges are very different. Oranges are generally richer in vitamins and minerals, but apples have a lower glycemic index."
Which compare/contrast essay organization type does the sentence above represent?