Focus Group Research: A Best Practices Approach

Focus group research shares many of the concerns and issues associated with quantitative.  Both adhere to research principles that serve to maximize users’ confidence in the research findings.  But, while quantitative design and analysis issues are openly examined among various marketing research publications (such as Marketing Research) and associations (such as AAPOR), corresponding public methodological discussions concerning focus group research are relatively few.  Guidelines and white papers (proprietary or otherwise) on core competencies and procedures exist, yet there is a void of meaningful discourse that would bring methodological priorities into focus for the discipline.  No less than quantitative, focus group marketing research merits discussions pertaining to a variety of design components, such as: screener development (questionnaire design), the moderator’s guide (question wording and context effects), the use of specific techniques (control for bias and analyzability of the results), and the analytic process (accuracy of conclusions and recommendations).

A systematic, thorough investigation – or at the least, a robust ongoing industry-wide conversation – concerning these and other issues will provide an important look into focus group research.  The outgrowth of these analyses will be to remove any black-box perceptions of focus group research, add transparency to the process, and ultimately offer research users greater justification and substantiation for the findings.  Like quantitative, qualitative methods of all types deserve ongoing questioning and inspection that contribute to an increasing level of confidence among researchers and their clients.

[This is an excerpt from a working paper titled, “Focus Group Research: A Best Practices Approach.”  Future posts will discuss the various issues concerning best practices presented in this paper as well as other topics relevant to qualitative & quantitative research design.]

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