written by: N Nayab
• edited by: Jean Scheid
• updated: 4/27/2011
A focus group is a popular method of undertaking qualitative research. But what is the real purpose of a focus group? Do these types of groups have any disadvantages or limitations? Read on to find out.
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A focus group is a method of preliminary qualitative research that works by selecting a group of eight to twelve people, placing them in an interactive group setting, and probing them on their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes on a specific topic. The group members are allowed to discuss with one another to reach a common answer. The leader ensures that the discussion centers on the topic and does not digress.
Focus groups find use in exploring issues and understanding people’s opinions and feelings about such issues. It also facilitates group decision making and formulation of mutual goals and targets.
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Focus groups serve to provide in depth qualitative information on the beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and perceptions of the group members, who represent the target population. The major purposes of a focus group include:
Providing increased understanding or clarity on issues including previously obtained qualitative and quantitative data results.
Testing assumptions, which helps in generating hypothesis, develop concepts and in pilot testing.
Understanding the experience and outlook of people from using a specific product or service, to gather customer impression and feedback.
Gaining insight into the moods, unconscious behavior, and predisposition of the target to develop market strategies and new ideas for concepts.
Gaining insight into people’s behaviors and attitudes to develop a solid methodology for quantitative research.
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Why Use Focus Groups
The advantages of using focus groups over other methods of qualitative analysis are many.
A focus group is a cost and time effective method of collecting high quality information. By allowing in depth open ended discussions and probing on the issue, this methodology provides for elaboration and consequently, a detailed analysis that incorporates all aspects and angles of the topic, leading to greater insight and understanding of the topic.
The discussions that take place among focus group members generally provide correct and practical information obtained directly from the source.
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A focus group is a quasi-structured method of qualitative research and does not offer any quantitative insights. It remains most effective as a preliminary research tool, where a more structured approach may be premature, and where the data collected does not require much analysis. The realization of focus group objectives depends on a proper structuring of the focus group and asking the correct questions regarding the issue.
The major disadvantages of focus groups are the inherent risk of a dominant participant influencing others, and the possibility to limited questions or information owing to paucity of time. The focus group setting also remains inadequate to gauge general support for a data, or discuss sensitive issues. Resolving such drawbacks and realizing the purpose of a focus group depends on the skill of the moderator or the leader.
Regardless of the disadvantages, focus groups allow for decision making based on real-life and practical data, and for this reason ranks very high on the list of preferred tools for a qualitative analysis.
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Center for Health Promotion. University of Toeronto. “Using Focus Groups.” http://bit.ly/fDhDJV. Retrieved April 21, 2011.