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Cliffnotes vs Sparknotes (Is SparkNotes or Cliffnotes better?)

When you are stuck somewhere in your homework or college projects, cliffnotes vs SparkNotes must be the never ending battle in your head. Especially the students of languages and literature will find more data on these websites because of the vast addition of information.

There is critical analysis of books, plays, authors, character maps and other foreign languages like math, science, history, psychology, French etc. keeping the original text side by side will help you understand the main ideas of novels and other critical works of most of the famous writers.

Cliffnotes Vs SparkNotes:

For the same purpose of better and in depth understanding, there are 2 famous websites as we mentioned earlier. Cliffnotes with its intuitive outlook has information on more subjects and topics related to your query. If we talk about sparknotes, it will prepare you for the upcoming examinations and more.


Studying online can also lead to discrediting websites like Wikipedia or other non trustworthy sources. So questioning the credibility of a website is an important factor to notice. Owned by Wiley productions, Cliffnotes is an easy guide to not only literature but other subjects and topics as well for free.

In case you want to download anything in PDF form, there are 159 literature study guides completely available on its website. They can cost you $6 to $10 each but more than 250 of the guides are free to access too. The comparative studies are available for $1.99 to download on iPhone.

For people like the visually impared and dyslexic, you can run free Podcasts known as “CramCasts” that involve 3 to 5 minutes of book summaries. You also get to understand the plot of the book by listening to them in case of any confusion regarding the story or concept.

Some books even have the complete text available online also since the world is moving and becoming digital. One of the con of this website according to Professor Fisher in the New York times is that some of the criticism is outdated. Whereas SparkNotes has more contemporary analysis of data compared to other sites.

On the other hand, SparkNotes is owned by Barnes and Noble that started in competition with CliffNotes and became a competitor. Even though it is dated back in 1999, it matches more with the students of today. Offering 690 guides from its library of knowledge, you get to see subjects like literature, history, biology etc.

Most of the content is free here but if you want to upgrade it to SparkNotes Plus, this requires a sign up process. It includes mastery quizzes, flashcards for presentations, infographics and graphic novels for the people who love reading. These electronic editions are available to download for $4.95.

Series like “no fear” by Shakespeare are available for $4.99 as the cost of each guide on iTunes. It is present with the modern translation relating to the original text for better understanding. If you want it to be read in book form, it will cost you $5.35 as more than 150 guides are available in this form.

So you usually do not pay for something trash or unimportant but if you have data that is more precise ini its approach, websites often let users buy it for minimal cost. This, in return, clears the credibility of these 2 major websites for your class projects, presentations, assignments and school works as their content has some reliability.


SparkNotes offers eBooks for Barnes and Noble’s electronic reader, the nook and any device that runs this software. This can turn useful in BlackBerrys, iPhones, Google Android operating systems as well. Your Smartphone should also support HTML or PDF reader support if you ever download relevant data for offline reading.

Besides the diverse content, these 2 websites may have the same content with respect to the topic, but they have their own ways to describe them. Since the writers are different, you also get to see the difference in other factors as mentioned below:

1- User interface:

CliffNotes is seen covered in black and yellow combination of colors on the cover of the page. Its logo also represents the same color and grabs the attention of the user more than any other color would naturally by human beings. In comparison, SparkNotes has a soft look of White and blue with a blue snowflake as the website’s logo.

For discussion of various topics, there are tabs to be seen on the top of the page just below the cover, horizontally laid in SparkNotes. On the other hand, CliffNotes has the tabs laid on the left side of the page vertically for easy navigation. Some users may find ads on the former website while the latter is clean in its approach usually.

On the right side we get to see the download file as a PDF option, buy now or add PLUS buttons. These suggest the users who want to keep the data offline as well and can reach out to buy or download the files as they need.

2- Summaries:

Topics like literature that contain novels, plays or stories will have the first tab of summary which will explain all the plot to the reader focusing on only the major aspects. Although CliffNotes has another tab before summaries, called “xyz at a glance” which is another overview lightly touching the surface of story, themes etc.

You also get to see the tone of SparkNotes as it offers some tone of critical analysis in this tab while CliffNotes has a separate tab present for this purpose. It will then further take out important events from the topic and bring light on them. The former website has a button on full book analysis at the end of the summary in the shape of a button on the right.

3- Chapter wise analysis:

The left side at the end of the summary on SparkNotes, you get to see a button that says the previous section and it will take you to chapter wise analysis. As navigation should be easier for the average user to locate a chapter, CliffNotes give all the tabs on the left in vertical shape. They involve all the chapters of acts one after the other to go for in depth analysis.

4- Full book analysis:

A section called full book analysis or full book summary is seen in SparkNotes where the major and minor aspects of the book are discussed. It is also often regarded as the very first tab or information provided according to the topic.

5- Character lists:

Then there comes a character list or character mapping where all the noteworthy people or characters in a book are discussed. SparkNotes has only this section where the people are being mentioned under separate headings whereas Cliffnotes have separate tabs for characters.

This website gives more insight to the reader to understand each aspect of the book. Moreover, this tab will be usually seen in novels or plays as part of the literature studies. The latter web page also has a separate tab on character mapping which associates each character and dissects into complex relationships if the topic has any.

6- Author Biography:

Another plus point by CliffNotes is that the author or biography of the author xyz is seen on a separate tab. Giving you an insight into the writer’s life, his or her accomplishments and their idea behind writing a certain topic helps understand the topic more easily. It is hugely missing in SparkNotes as its main focus becomes the topic itself rather than the writer’s biography which may seem irrelevant sometimes.

7- Literary devices:

Relating to the name itself, literary devices are usually included in subjects of literature. This begins as a separate button on the top horizontal line on SparkNotes with separate sub tabs or buttons including:

  • Themes
  • Symbols
  • Motifs
  • Tone
  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Genre
  • Style of writing
  • Setting of the topic or era
  • Similes
  • Metaphors
  • Foreshadowing aspects etc

Each of these pointers give a different point of view to the reader to pick up the technical aspect of a literary work. You also get to see a tab named “major themes” present on CliffNotes separately to give full focus on some of these technical language devices at a time.

For instance, if you search Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet, you get to see some of the symbols on a different tab other than major themes on CliffNotes. They are separate from the symbols tab itself that requires more explanation than others.

8- Foreign languages:

Both of these websites are not confined to literature only but they also give information on foreign languages and subjects. Some of them include Math, science, history, French, Biology etc. This aspect makes them versatile and targets a larger audience.

9- Quizzes:

Helping material like quizzes and study guides make you a capable student and let you know how much you have understood a certain topic. It is like a test before your actual exam to determine the level of success you will be later getting. Both of these websites have numerous guides as quick quizzes and detailed quizzes.

SparkNotes even have presentation topics or questions under the name of “student projects which are great fill for presenting. You are given a question or scenario from the book which is justified with your points of understanding. Looking at the other website, it has different tabs representing “film versions”, “study help” and “Quiz”.

10- Question & answers:

Furthermore, a question and answers session is present on a separate section of the both websites giving you what else to look at from the topic. CliffNotes gives top xyz questions explained in a button to not leave a student empty mind even after thorough analysis. The other one has this tab with important questions as sub buttons under the same name of “questions & answers”.

11- Quotes:

Since any topic is discussed in such detail, CliffNotes does not give a different tab specifically dedicated to quotes. On the other hand, SparkNotes has this option present which has subtopics as buttons including chapter wise addition, symbols, by themes and important quotes explained under this tab. Rather than giving awfully more tabs, Sparknotes adjusts sub tabs under its 8 main sections.

Further Study:

This section is the last one on SparkNotes suggesting

  • other articles from the same author or topic
  • movie adaptations
  • Related links
  • Background of the topic
  • Essay questions etc

While CliffNotes specifically does not have this section, it lays its aspects in other tabs like its interface is built. 

Bottom line:

Overcoming the homework headache has definitely become easier with the launch of these websites. There are differences and similarities in both the pages yet it is hard to say which is better or worse. Both have their styles of writing and in depth detail on any topic given as they also offer an after study guide too.

Analysts like Professor Fisher as mentioned before believes that SparkNotes is a more contemporary style of writing which CliffNotes lacks. The reason is its nuanced interpretation and precise approach but we do not find much difference in both. Other than the totally changed interface and navigation, they are usually giving their best service to ease the life of readers let alone students.


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