Focus Groups


Focus groups are group interviews with persons selected because they share some characteristic of relevance for a research topic. The methodology can efficiently and effectively be used to study topics in greater depth than population-based survey research. Focus groups generate qualitative data that can enhance understanding about perceptions, feelings, practices and beliefs among particular sociodemographic, cultural and other groups.[1]

Relevant Characteristics

Focus group research methodology can be undertaken in conjunction with other methods. A strategy can be designed exclusively using focus groups, depending on the research goals. One example of focus group methodology used in medical anthropology is in formative stages of research. Focus groups can provide data to inform the design of subsequent ethnographic research. The method can also generate data useful in the design of population-based surveys. Focus group research methodology can be especially useful for discerning psycho-graphic characteristics of a group.[2]

Some things to remember about focus group methodology include:

· In most cases the groups, and not individuals, are the unit of analysis. It is usually ideal to interview multiple groups for this reason.

· The dynamics of interaction amongst group members, and points of disagreement, should be observed and probed, as they can sometimes provide additional useful data.

· Skilled moderation requires creating a comfortable and facilitative environment, in addition to effective interviewing skills.

· This method is flexible; it can be adapted to different research needs by combining it with other methods or adapting it to online settings.

“Method Made Easy”

To use focus group methodology one must:

  1. Decide upon a group characteristic around which to select participants. For example, select a group of parents of teenagers if seeking data from that population.
  2. Decide if your study design will include layering - additional groups constituted from a different segment of the population.
  3. Organize a comfortable environment for the study.
  4. Prepare a list of questions to ask.
  5. Prepare the setting with note-taking, recording or other materials.
  6. During the group interview, remain objective and encourage participation from all members.
  7. Produce transcriptions from notes and recordings.
  8. Code and analyze data.


Focus group methodology is especially advantageous for settings where whole communities' perceptions, knowledge and beliefs about a topic related to the research question at hand constitute the data sought. Additionally, when differences between sub-groups within a community are the variable of interest, focus groups can be employed as part of an appropriate epistemological approach. For example, when disparities of disease frequency and health outcomes exist between socioeconomic groups within a community, separate focus groups constituted from members of the different groups can serve as an effective way to generate data about differences had by members of the respective groups.[3]


Focus group methodology has some limitations. An important constraint of the method is that focus group study results are not generalizable. Some theorists of the method apply the concept of “transferability.”[4] This concept alludes to idea that the results of a focus group potentially, depending on group characteristics and the particular topic of investigation, may be relevant for other communities. Additionally, focus groups do not generate data that can reliably be considered independent from any one participant. Focus group participants influence each other and react to each other so interdependence of responses should be assumed.


Analysis of data from focus groups is like that performed for data from individual semi-structured interviews. Audio recordings and interviewer notes, and possibly video recordings, are transcribed, coded and analyzed for frequency of categories of response or other selected metric depending on the epistemological needs of the study.

Online Resources

This link opens "Focus Groups Tips for Beginners", an online resource produced by the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning

Focus group tips for beginners

Further Reading

Coreil, J. 1994 Group interview methods in community health research Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness

Volume 16, Issue 1,2, 193-210.


  1. ^ Kruuger, Richard A., Mary Ann Casey. (2000) Focus Groups: A practical guide for applied research, Third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
  2. ^ Fern, E. (2001). Advanced Focus group research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  3. ^ Kruuger, Richard A., Mary Ann Casey. (2000) Focus Groups: A practical guide for applied research, Third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
  4. ^ Kruuger, Richard A., Mary Ann Casey. (2000) Focus Groups: A practical guide for applied research, Third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications