Introduction to Focus Groups

Introduction to Focus Groups

This module provides a brief overview of the use of focus groups in research.

Learning Objectives

  • Define focus groups
  • Explain the purpose of using focus groups in research
  • Provide examples of when utilizing a focus group may be appropriate and helpful

A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a small group of people are interviewed as a group regarding their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a particular topic. Surveys are great for collecting information about people’s attitudes and beliefs, but if the researcher would like to fully understand the participants at a deeper level, a focus group is an excellent tool.

A focus group commonly contains six to ten people and a moderator who asks the questions and guides the conversation. A focus group relies on the interaction of the participants to draw out useful information. The goal of a focus group is not to arrive at a consensus or even to have a debate. The goal of a focus group is to generate ideas or allow the group members to express their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes about a topic. Interaction is key because sometimes participants come into a focus group uncertain of how they even feel about a topic and the group discussion allows them to explore their thoughts and feelings.  Focus groups are useful in many situations and the following list demonstrates the array of purposes that focus groups can serve:

  • Exploring behaviors, ideas, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, feelings and reactions of group participants on a topic.
  • Developing questions or concepts for a questionnaire.
  • Generating a new hypothesis about a topic.
  • Learning how respondents communicate about a topic and finding a common language that will be usual in future research.
  • Interpreting previously obtained quantitative and qualitative research data.
  • Stimulating new ideas or concepts.
  • Prototyping respondents to develop additional research tools and decide on how best to follow up information collection.
  • Adding a human dimension to impersonal data to promote understanding.
  • Investigate complex behaviors and explore behavior change.

To conduct a successful focus group discussion requires planning. The modules in this Research Ready series will focus on the various aspects of planning and conducting a focus group. Following is an overview of the basic process:

  1. Identify the research agenda and the information being sought.
  2. Identify appropriate focus group members and decide on the number of participants.
  3. Select a moderator.
  4. Plan physical details such as location and setting.
  5. Generate the interview questions and a schedule
  6. Pilot/test the schedule and list of questions with a group of colleagues or others.
  7. Recruit participants.
  8. Conduct the focus group.
  9. Analyze and interpret the findings.
  10. Write the report.

Suggested Readings

Bloor, M. (2001). Focus groups in social research. Sage.
Gibbs, A. (1997). Focus groups. Social research update, 19(8), 1-8.
Kamberelis, G., & Dimitriadis, G. (2005). Focus groups. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research-Third Edition. Sage Publications, 20020, 887-908.
Kitzinger, J. (1994). The methodology of focus groups: the importance of interaction between research participants. Sociology of health and illness, 16(1), 103-121.
Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2009). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. Sage.
Litosseliti, L. (2003). Using focus groups in research. A&C Black.
Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus groups as qualitative research (Vol. 16). Sage.
Morgan, D. L. (1996). Focus groups. Annual review of sociology, 129-152.

Viewed 5,440 times