Focus Groups
Pros and Cons | Guides | Resources | Examples | Tools



  • quickly and reliably get common impressions, ideas and concepts

  • can be efficient way to get much range and depth of information in short time

  • can convey key information about programs

  • can examine how participants react to each other

  • allows probing

  • quick turnaround

  • useful in marketing and evaluation

  • can be hard to analyze responses

  • need good facilitator for safety for closure

  • difficult to schedule 6-8 people together

  • sometimes expensive

  • participants could react differently if feel they are being watched or due to peer pressure

  • may be dominated by one or two participants

  • difficult to generalize results sometimes

  • may contain unnecessary information

  • measurement validity may be low

  • should not be the only data collection method used in a study


Focus Group guidelines can be interwoven with questioning and observation depending on concentration of study.

What is a Focus Group?
  • an interview of a group of 6-10 people
  • nonstructured and natural manner
  • moderator leads
  • gain insights by listening to a group of people

Why choose a Focus Group?

  • being in a group often encourages participants to share feelings or opinions they might not have thought of in an individual interview

Designing a Focus Group Session:

  • keep session in reasonable time frame (45-90 minutes)
  • homogeneous grouping reduces inhibitions of participants
  • more than one focus group on any topic to produce valid results (usually 3-4)

Designing Questions:

  • structured around pre-determined questions, but not restrictive
  • 8 questions is ideal (no more than 12)
  • questions should be short and to the point
  • focus on one dimension in each question
  • open-ended questions
  • non-threatening
  • avoid embarrassing questions
  • avoid questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no”
  • 3 types of focus questions
    • Engagement questions: introduce participants to and make them comfortable with topic
    • Exploration questions: get to meat of discussion
    • Exit questions: checks to see if anything was missed in discussion
  • begin with ice breaker question “If you had a limitless budget, where would you vacation?”
  • moderator may need to request participants to clarify or elaborate on thoughts


  • participants should be comfortable with each other but not know each other
  • homogeneous grouping, consider this:
    • gender: will both men and women feel comfortable discussing topic with each other
    • age: will young people be intimidated by older person or vice versa?
    • power: will participants be willing to make candid remarks with superiors present
    • cliques: influential high school peers
  • establish inclusion/exclusion criteria up front
  • participants can be recruited by:
    • nomination
    • random selection
    • existing group (ex: PTSA, clubs, etc.)
    • job title/role
    • volunteers
    • over invite to ensure enough participants (you will want no more than 10 participants at a time)
    • offer incentive for participation
  • choose comfortable and convenient setting
  • offer food/snack
  • assign participants identifying numbers for note taking purposes
  • all participants should sign a consent form
  • may need to collect demographics on participant (age, gender, etc) by having participants complete a half-sheet paper prior to discussion

Conducting Focus Group

  • ideally conducted by two people: moderator and assistant (records and takes notes)

    • Moderator:
      • Can listen attentively with sensitivity and empathy
      • Is able to listen and think at the same time
      • Believes that all group participants have something to offer
      • Has adequate knowledge of the topic
      • Can keep personal views and ego out of facilitation
      • Group feels comfortable with and can relate to
      • Can manage challenging group dynamics
      • Should greet participants and invite them to partake in food
      • Good to summarize complex comments
      • Must remain neutral
    • Assistant Moderator
      • Run a recording device
      • Take notes
      • Note body language and other subtleties
      • Allows moderator to do all the talking
      • Should also greet participants and invite them to partake in food

Sample Focus Group Scripts

Using Focus Groups


Return to Key Elements in the Research Proposal