Comparative Research


Comparative research looks at two or more similar groups, individuals, or conditions by comparing them. This comparison often focuses on a few specific characteristics. This method can also be used to compare the same group, condition, or individual over time (also called longitudinal comparison). Comparisons may be qualitative or quantitative.


The use of comparative research in resource management can be applied in many ways. Managers can compare certain characteristics of one area to another area to determine how well a management strategy is working. For example a manager could compare two neighboring Marine Protected Areas - one in which artisanal fishing is regulated and another where no regulations are in place.


  • If data are available, research can be conducted quickly

  • Results can be used to provide support for management decisions

  • Provides direct comparisons of two or more areas or elements, both geographical and temporal (this is also known as longitudinal)


  • Difficult to control for all factors

  • Requires quantifiable data if statistical comparison is desired

  • Needs baseline data or control group

Examples and Case Studies

  • Willingness to Pay in Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems in Orange County, California

Expertise Needed

This technique may require a basic understanding of statistics and knowledge of issues being researched.

Related Partners

NOAA is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. It plays several distinct roles within the Department of Commerce.

Resources: Websites

  • Comparative Research Methods
    A discussion of comparitive research methods by Linda Hantrais, Director of the European Research Centre, Loughborough University. Article published by the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey.

  • How to Write a Comparative Analysis
    Guidelines from the Harvard Writing Center.