Comparative research essentially compares two groups in an attempt to draw a conclusion about them. Researchers attempt to identify and analyze similarities and differences between groups, and these studies are most often cross-national, comparing two separate people groups. Comparative studies can be used to increase understanding between cultures and societies and create a foundation for compromise and collaboration. These studies contain both quantitative and qualitative research methods.
Quantitative, or experimental, research is characterized by the manipulation of an independent variable to measure and explain its influence on a dependent variable. Because comparative research studies analyze two different groups -- which may have very different social contexts -- it is difficult to establish the parameters of research. Such studies might seek to compare, for example, large amounts of demographic or employment data from different nations that define or measure relevant research elements differently.
However, the methods for statistical analysis of data inherent in quantitative research are still helpful in establishing correlations in comparative studies. Also, the need for a specific research question in quantitative research helps comparative researchers narrow down and establish a more specific comparative research question.
Qualitative, or nonexperimental, is characterized by observation and recording outcomes without manipulation. In comparative research, data are collected primarily by observation, and the goal is to determine similarities and differences that are related to the particular situation or environment of the two groups. These similarities and differences are identified through qualitative observation methods. Additionally, some researchers have favored designing comparative studies around a variety of case studies in which individuals are observed and behaviors are recorded. The results of each case are then compared across people groups.
When to Use It
Comparative research studies should be used when comparing two people groups, often cross-nationally. These studies analyze the similarities and differences between these two groups in an attempt to better understand both groups. Comparisons lead to new insights and better understanding of all participants involved. These studies also require collaboration, strong teams, advanced technologies and access to international databases, making them more expensive. Use comparative research design when the necessary funding and resources are available.
When Not to Use It
Do not use comparative research design with little funding, limited access to necessary technology and few team members. Because of the larger scale of these studies, they should be conducted only if adequate population samples are available. Additionally, data within these studies require extensive measurement analysis; if the necessary organizational and technological resources are not available, a comparative study should not be used. Do not use a comparative design if data are not able to be measured accurately and analyzed with fidelity and validity.