Despite seven years of external military interventions to counter violent extremism, the security situation in the Sahel continues to deteriorate. Hard military approaches predominate in the region despite widespread recognition amongst Sahel specialists that the militarisation of the Sahel may actually be getting in the way of the search for a long-term political solution. This raises a number of questions that are important for Area Studies specialists: what type of information is brought into policymaking? Who produces it? How is it processed and what influence does it have? How does, or should, Area Studies fit within that? This research note argues that analysis undertaken by area specialists is indispensable in order to understand the complex nature of the various interlocking armed conflicts in the western Sahel. It suggests however that the type of thick description that characterises much area studies analysis can sometimes be too dense and too specific to be of immediate use to policymakers. Drawing on insights from Comparative Area Studies (intra-regional and cross-regional comparison in particular), it explores how Area Studies could contribute more effectively to policy relevant research on the Sahel.