Effective Focus Group Questions

RR graphic - no words.jpgEffective Focus Group Questions

The focus of this module is on preparing effective focus group questions that will result in valuable data.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the types of questions commonly used in a focus group.
  • Explain the process for developing a list of questions for a focus group.
  • List tips and guidelines commonly considered when developing focus group questions.


The value of the data collected from a focus group study may largely depend on the effectiveness of the questions that are asked of the group. Developing an effective list of questions is critical to the success of the focus group outcomes. This module will explore the different types of questions commonly used, the process for developing a list of questions, and tips that should be considered throughout the process.

 There are three main types of focus group questions that will be used during an interview. The following list describes each type of question and provides an example:

  • Engagement questions – Introduce the participants to the topic or subject and get them comfortable with the discussion.   Example: What is your favorite type of exercise?
  • Exploration questions – Designed to get to the heart of the discussion and typically are open-ended. Examples: What are the pros and cons of exercise? How do you feel about yourself when you exercise? How do you feel when you don’t? What are the reasons that prevent you from exercising? What would encourage you to exercise more?
  • Exit questions – Designed to see if any angle was missed during the discussion. Example: Is there anything else you would like to say about why you do or do not exercise on a regular basis?

 Keeping in mind the three main types of questions used during a focus group, following is list of steps commonly followed when developing focus group questions.

  1. Consider the project goals. Decide what information is critical and needs to addressed in the questioning. What information will most benefit the project?
  2. Review the information that is currently available. Focus groups questions should be limited; therefore, it is helpful to review what is currently known about a topic so that valuable time is not spent on that aspect during the focus group.
  3. Develop a preliminary list of questions that includes all three types of questions: engagement, exploration, and exit questions. Do this in a brainstorming fashion and plan to edit the list and reduce the total number of questions later.
  4. Obtain feedback on the preliminary list of questions. Ask project team members or others outside the project to consider the project goals and provide feedback about the potential questions on the list.
  5. Revise the list of questions using the feedback obtained. During this step, the number should be reduced to between 8-12 questions and the questions should be refined and polished. Use the guidelines below in developing the final list:
    • Questions should be short and to the point. Wording should not be ambiguous.
    • Use open-ended questions that begin with phrases such as:
      • How did you feel…
      • What did you think about….
      • What do you like best about…
      • What problems do you see…
      • How did you…
    • Questions should be non-threatening and should not embarrass participants.
    • Avoid dichotomous questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
    • Avoid asking “why”. Instead focus on gathering information about specific attributes or characteristics of the topics or things that influence the topic.
    • Use questions that encourage participant involvement. For example, use questions that ask the members to reflect, give examples, provide a rating on a scale, make choices, or offer perceptions.
    • Order the question in a sequence that goes from general to more specific.
    • Allow time for open-ended discussion at the end so that participants can offer any additional thoughts on the topic.
  6. Researchers often find it helpful to have the moderator pilot the questions or do a pre-test of the focus group discussion with a group of people to gain insight into effectiveness of the questions that were developed prior to the focus group interview.

Once the list of questions has been developed and tested, it is time to conduct the focus group. The following module in this series will discuss the appropriate way to conduct an effective focus group.

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.

Resource Links

Designing and Conducting Focus Group Interviews – This resource includes a detailed discussion of how to create effective focus group questions and conduct the interview.

Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group – The following resource is an excellent overview of how to use focus groups and includes helpful tools and tips.

Introduction to Conducting Focus Groups – The PDF file linked here provides a comprehensive discussion of how to conduct a focus group.

Focus Group Questionnaire Fundamentals – This resource covers the five basic types of questions commonly used in a focus group setting.

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