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What is comparative analysis? A complete guide
18 April 2023
Comparative analysis is a valuable tool for acquiring deep insights into your organization’s processes, products, and services so you can continuously improve them.
Similarly, if you want to streamline, price appropriately, and ultimately be a market leader, you’ll likely need to draw on comparative analyses quite often.
When faced with multiple options or solutions to a given problem, a thorough comparative analysis can help you compare and contrast your options and make a clear, informed decision.
If you want to get up to speed on conducting a comparative analysis or need a refresher, here’s your guide.
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- What exactly is comparative analysis?
A comparative analysis is a side-by-side comparison that systematically compares two or more things to pinpoint their similarities and differences. The focus of the investigation might be conceptual—a particular problem, idea, or theory—or perhaps something more tangible, like two different data sets.
For instance, you could use comparative analysis to investigate how your product features measure up to the competition.
After a successful comparative analysis, you should be able to identify strengths and weaknesses and clearly understand which product is more effective.
You could also use comparative analysis to examine different methods of producing that product and determine which way is most efficient and profitable.
The potential applications for using comparative analysis in everyday business are almost unlimited. That said, a comparative analysis is most commonly used to examine
Emerging trends and opportunities (new technologies, marketing)
Effects of trends on a target audience
- Why is comparative analysis so important?
Comparative analysis can help narrow your focus so your business pursues the most meaningful opportunities rather than attempting dozens of improvements simultaneously.
A comparative approach also helps frame up data to illuminate interrelationships. For example, comparative research might reveal nuanced relationships or critical contexts behind specific processes or dependencies that wouldn’t be well-understood without the research.
For instance, if your business compares the cost of producing several existing products relative to which ones have historically sold well, that should provide helpful information once you’re ready to look at developing new products or features.
- Comparative vs. competitive analysis—what’s the difference?
Comparative analysis is generally divided into three subtypes, using quantitative or qualitative data and then extending the findings to a larger group. These include
Pattern analysis —identifying patterns or recurrences of trends and behavior across large data sets.
Data filtering —analyzing large data sets to extract an underlying subset of information. It may involve rearranging, excluding, and apportioning comparative data to fit different criteria.
Decision tree —flowcharting to visually map and assess potential outcomes, costs, and consequences.
In contrast, competitive analysis is a type of comparative analysis in which you deeply research one or more of your industry competitors. In this case, you’re using qualitative research to explore what the competition is up to across one or more dimensions.
Service delivery —metrics like the Net Promoter Scores indicate customer satisfaction levels.
Market position — the share of the market that the competition has captured.
Brand reputation —how well-known or recognized your competitors are within their target market.
- Tips for optimizing your comparative analysis
Conduct original research
Thorough, independent research is a significant asset when doing comparative analysis. It provides evidence to support your findings and may present a perspective or angle not considered previously.
Make analysis routine
To get the maximum benefit from comparative research, make it a regular practice, and establish a cadence you can realistically stick to. Some business areas you could plan to analyze regularly include:
Experiment with controlled and uncontrolled variables
In addition to simply comparing and contrasting, explore how different variables might affect your outcomes.
For example, a controllable variable would be offering a seasonal feature like a shopping bot to assist in holiday shopping or raising or lowering the selling price of a product.
Uncontrollable variables include weather, changing regulations, the current political climate, or global pandemics.
Put equal effort into each point of comparison
Most people enter into comparative research with a particular idea or hypothesis already in mind to validate. For instance, you might try to prove the worthwhileness of launching a new service. So, you may be disappointed if your analysis results don’t support your plan.
However, in any comparative analysis, try to maintain an unbiased approach by spending equal time debating the merits and drawbacks of any decision. Ultimately, this will be a practical, more long-term sustainable approach for your business than focusing only on the evidence that favors pursuing your argument or strategy.
Writing a comparative analysis in five steps
To put together a coherent, insightful analysis that goes beyond a list of pros and cons or similarities and differences, try organizing the information into these five components:
1. Frame of reference
Here is where you provide context. First, what driving idea or problem is your research anchored in? Then, for added substance, cite existing research or insights from a subject matter expert, such as a thought leader in marketing, startup growth, or investment
2. Grounds for comparison Why have you chosen to examine the two things you’re analyzing instead of focusing on two entirely different things? What are you hoping to accomplish?
3. Thesis What argument or choice are you advocating for? What will be the before and after effects of going with either decision? What do you anticipate happening with and without this approach?
For example, “If we release an AI feature for our shopping cart, we will have an edge over the rest of the market before the holiday season.” The finished comparative analysis will weigh all the pros and cons of choosing to build the new expensive AI feature including variables like how “intelligent” it will be, what it “pushes” customers to use, how much it takes off the plates of customer service etc.
Ultimately, you will gauge whether building an AI feature is the right plan for your e-commerce shop.
4. Organize the scheme Typically, there are two ways to organize a comparative analysis report. First, you can discuss everything about comparison point “A” and then go into everything about aspect “B.” Or, you alternate back and forth between points “A” and “B,” sometimes referred to as point-by-point analysis.
Using the AI feature as an example again, you could cover all the pros and cons of building the AI feature, then discuss the benefits and drawbacks of building and maintaining the feature. Or you could compare and contrast each aspect of the AI feature, one at a time. For example, a side-by-side comparison of the AI feature to shopping without it, then proceeding to another point of differentiation.
5. Connect the dots Tie it all together in a way that either confirms or disproves your hypothesis.
For instance, “Building the AI bot would allow our customer service team to save 12% on returns in Q3 while offering optimizations and savings in future strategies. However, it would also increase the product development budget by 43% in both Q1 and Q2. Our budget for product development won’t increase again until series 3 of funding is reached, so despite its potential, we will hold off building the bot until funding is secured and more opportunities and benefits can be proved effective.”
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How to Write a Comparative Analysis
Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference . This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.
Grounds for Comparison . Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison , lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.
Thesis . The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:
Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.
Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.
Organizational Scheme . Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.
- In text-by-text , you discuss all of A, then all of B.
- In point-by-point , you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.
If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.
You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.
Linking of A and B . All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast ( similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand ) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner ).
As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand , feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.
Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
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Comparative Analysis: What It Is & How to Conduct It
When a business wants to start a marketing campaign or grow, a comparative analysis can give them information that helps them make crucial decisions. This analysis gathers different data sets to compare different options so a business can make good decisions for its customers and itself. If you or your business want to make good decisions, learning about comparative analyses could be helpful.
In this article, we’ll explain the comparative analysis and its importance. We’ll also learn how to do a good in-depth analysis .
What is comparative analysis?
Comparative analysis is a way to look at two or more similar things to see how they are different and what they have in common.
It is used in many ways and fields to help people understand the similarities and differences between products better. It can help businesses make good decisions about key issues.
One meaningful way it’s used is when applied to scientific data. Scientific data is information that has been gathered through scientific research and will be used for a certain purpose.
When it is used on scientific data, it determines how consistent and reliable the data is. It also helps scientists make sure their data is accurate and valid.
Importance of comparative analysis
Comparative analyses are important if you want to understand a problem better or find answers to important questions. Here are the main goals businesses want to reach through comparative analysis.
- It is a part of the diagnostic phase of business analytics. It can answer many of the most important questions a company may have and help you figure out how to fix problems at the company’s core to improve performance and even make more money.
- It encourages a deep understanding of the opportunities that apply to specific processes, departments, or business units. This analysis also ensures that we’re addressing the real reasons for performance gaps.
- It is used a lot because it helps people understand the challenges an organization has faced in the past and the ones it faces now. This method gives objective, fact-based information about performance and ways to improve it.
How to successfully conduct it
Consider using the advice below to carry out a successful comparative analysis:
Before doing an analysis, it’s important to do a lot of research . Research not only gives you evidence to back up your conclusions, but it might also show you something you hadn’t thought of before.
Research could also tell you how your competitors might handle a problem.
Make a list of what’s different and what’s the same.
When comparing two things in a comparative analysis, you need to make a detailed list of the similarities and differences.
Try to figure out how a change to one thing might affect another. Such as how increasing the number of vacation days affects sales, production, or costs.
A comparative analysis can also help you find outside causes, such as economic conditions or environmental analysis problems.
Describe both sides
Comparative analysis may try to show that one argument or idea is better, but the analysis must cover both sides equally. The analysis shows both sides of the main arguments and claims.
For example, to compare the benefits and drawbacks of starting a recycling program, one might examine both the positive effects, such as corporate responsibility and the potential negative effects, such as high implementation costs, to make wise, practical decisions or come up with alternate solutions.
A thorough comparison unit of analysis is usually more than just a list of pros and cons because it usually considers factors that affect both sides.
Variables can be both things that can’t be changed, like how the weather in the summer affects shipping speeds, and things that can be changed, like when to work with a local shipper.
Do analyses regularly
Comparative analyses are important for any business practice. Consider the different areas and factors that a comparative analysis looks at:
- How well do stocks
- Financial position
- Dividends and revenue
- Development and research
Because a comparative analysis can help more than one department in a company, doing them often can help you keep up with market changes and stay relevant.
We’ve talked about how good a comparative analysis is for your business. But things always have two sides. It is a good workaround, but still do your own user interviews or user tests if you can.
We hope you have fun doing comparative analyses! Comparative analysis is always a method you like to use, and the point of learning from competitors is to add your own ideas. In this way, you are not just following but also learning and making.
QuestionPro can help you with your analysis process, create and design a survey to meet your goals, and analyze data for your business’s comparative analysis.
At QuestionPro, we give researchers tools for collecting data, like our survey software and a library of insights for all kinds of l ong-term research . If you want to book a demo or learn more about our platform, just click here.
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Business Research Methodology pp 395–411 Cite as
- Sergey K. Aityan 2
- First Online: 01 January 2022
Part of the Classroom Companion: Business book series (CCB)
Comparative research is essential for making right decisions in business. Decisions are always associated with the comparison and analysis of choices. Each choice, typically, presents multiple features for comparison and analysis depending on the goals, purpose, scope, priorities, resources, capabilities, constraints, available information, and many other factors and conditions.
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Cite this chapter.
Aityan, S.K. (2022). Comparative Analysis. In: Business Research Methodology. Classroom Companion: Business. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-76857-7_18
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-76857-7_18
Published : 01 January 2022
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