Understanding the difference between compare and contrast in an essay is itself an exercise in comparing and contrasting.

Samuel L Jackson says,

Comparison essays answer these questions:

  1. What is the same about two or more things? (Compare)

  2. 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:

  1. fruits

  2. grown on trees

  3. about the same size

  4. about the same weight

  5. round-ish

  6. sweet

  7. juicy

  8. edible

  9. contain vitamin C

This is what is meant by "compare" in a compare/contrast essay.

Hands holding an orange and a green apple

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:

Apples of different colors. Photo by Tom Paolini on Unsplash


  1. are red, green, or yellow

  2. are crisp and crunchy

  3. have high in fiber

  4. have higher vitamin A

  5. peel can be eaten

3 oranges. Photo by Marcos Ramírez on Unsplash

But oranges:

  1. are orange

  2. are pulpy and soft

  3. have less fiber

  4. have higher vitamin C and potassium

  5. peel isn't usually eaten

This is what is meant by contrast in a compare/contrast essay.

4 regular zebras and one


"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).

Venn diagram comparing/contrasting apples and oranges. Text to speech audio available below.

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:

  1. Physical characteristics (size, shape, color) 🍎 🍊

  2. Taste characteristics (juicy, sweet, tart, soft, crisp) 👅 👄

  3. 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.

A point-by-point outline showing physical, taste, and nutritional aspects of each item in a separate paragraph. Point-by-Point

Each paragraph discusses all the points of one subject (in this case, apples then oranges):

  1. Physical characteristics

  2. Taste Characteristics

  3. Nutritional Characteristics

A block-by-block outline showing each point for both apples and oranges across 3 paragraphs. Block-by-Block

Each paragraph discusses both subjects (in this case, apples and oranges) for each point:

  1. Apples' physical, taste, and nutritional characteristics

  2. 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?

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