Author: Margaret R. Roller

The Focus Group Method: Where It Came From & How It Is Used

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 109-110).

The focused interview approach used with individuals and groups as described by Merton and Kendall (1946) was never intended as a stand-alone research method. Rather, the purpose was to “test” certain hypotheses or assumptions that resulted from content analyses conducted on “a particular situation,” such as reactions to a radio program. In other words, group interviewing, from the early days of Merton, served the purpose of supporting quantitative research by affirming or denying theories derived from survey data, or generating new ideas and hypotheses that could be verified by further survey research. To this point, Merton emphasized that from the results of group discussions, “there is no way of knowing in advance of further quantitative research which plausible interpretations (hypotheses) will pan out and which will not” (Merton, 1987, p. 558).

Focus group discussions today are, to some degree, used in conjunction with quantitative research (as prescribed by Merton) and, indeed, are an effective method for exploring new ideas and informing the design of a survey questionnaire (e.g., in terms of subject matter and language) as well as evaluating and deepening the researcher’s understanding of the survey data. The work of O’Donnell, Lutfey, Marceau, and McKinlay (2007) on physician decision making is one example of how group discussions have been integrated with the research process to improve the quantitative component. Other examples come from Vogt, King, and King (2004), who conducted focus groups with Gulf War veterans concerning war-related stressors to aid in the development of their instrument to assess psychological Read Full Text

Ethnography: An Example of Transparent Reporting

A portion of the following is an excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 221).

Ethnography: An Example of TransparencyThe important component in research design concerning transparency has been discussed many times in Research Design Review. And indeed, Transparency is the third component of the Total Quality Framework. The integrity and ultimate Usefulness of qualitative research hinges on exposing design and data collection details in the final reporting documents.

An excellent example of transparency can be found in “Impacts of intensified police activity on injection drug users: Evidence from an ethnographic investigation” (Small et al., 2006). Here, the authors report on a participant–observation study that was conducted to complement a broader study concerning the impact of enforcement on illicit drug-use-related behavior. Their description of what went on in the field is a good example of giving the reader a clear understanding of the field activity:

Trained observers spent time “hanging out” in and around locales where drug sales and injecting took place, talking to and interacting with drug users. Discussions, occurrences, and observations were documented in fieldnotes. Observational data recorded in extensive fieldnotes included: location and character of public injection venues; syringe acquisition, availability, and disposal; public drug consumption patterns for injection and non-injection drugs; and description of public drug users. . . . Each observational field visit incorporated two hours of participant–observation conducted in streets and alleys as well as time spent writing fieldnotes to document observations and discussions. A target area and schedule of observations was devised, drawing on previous ethnographic research examining needle exchange practices. . . . The observations targeted both street-side and in the alleyways along 10 blocks of Hastings Street, where numerous clusters of drug market and consumption activity were identified by ethnographic mapping techniques. . . . Observations were distributed between morning, afternoon, and evening hours, with an increased number of observations occurring around monthly welfare payments when public drug scene and police activity increases. As some drug market and using locales shifted and new ones emerged, ethnographic data collection activities were altered accordingly to survey the largest portion of the open drug using scene, including areas far outside the central Hastings corridor. (pp. 86–87)


Small, W., Kerr, T., Charette, J., Schechter, M. T., & Spittal, P. M. (2006). Impacts of intensified police activity on injection drug users: Evidence from an ethnographic investigation. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17(2), 85–95.

Learning to Find Meaning in Qualitative Research: 6 Articles

“Learning to Find Meaning” is a compilation of six articles concerning the importance of and techniques to finding Learning to Find Meaning in Qualitative Research Data Collection meaning when gathering qualitative data. There are many (many) articles in Research Design Review that discuss various aspects of qualitative data collection; however, the articles selected for this short compilation are narrowly focused on deriving meaning by determining the sense and the context of participants’ lived experiences as defined by participants. To any qualitative researcher, this seems obvious. And yet, as discussed in these articles, finding meaning is often missed due to erroneous assumptions, absence of required skills, or failure to invest the necessary time with participants.

All but one of these articles appeared in Research Design Review in the 2014-2022 time period.

“Learning to Find Meaning: 6 Articles on the Importance of & Techniques to Finding Meaning in Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

Eight other compilations of RDR articles, devoted to particular methods or techniques, are also available:

“Qualitative Content Analysis: 6 Articles on the Definition & Quality Design Considerations” is available for download here.

“Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research: 16 Articles on the 10 Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

“Ethnography & the Observation Method: 15 Articles on Design, Implementation, & Uses” is available for download here.

“The Focus Group Method: 18 Articles on Design & Moderating” is available for download here.

“The In-depth Interview Method: 12 Articles on Design & Implementation” is available for download here.

“Reflexivity: 10 Articles on the Role of Reflection in Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Data Analysis: 16 Articles on Process & Method” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Research: Transparency & Reporting” is available for download here.