Focus Groups

Limitations of the Focus Group Method: An Overview

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 112-113).


The interactive, dynamic nature of group discussions (see “Strengths of the Focus Group Method: An Overview”) may also present a potential limitation to the method. The exchange of information and ideas may have the focus group limitationspositive effect of eliciting new insights, but it may also have the damaging effect of unwittingly influencing responses from participants who are reluctant to voice dissenting opinions and just want to go along with the prevailing mood. Although a professional moderator can often identify the more introverted or shy participants in a group and use rapport-building techniques to encourage their candidness, these attempts are not always successful and the research outcomes may reflect more agreement on an issue than is actually warranted. Whether the nonexistence of differing attitudes among group participants is due to the reluctance of people to speak their minds or an honest reflection of personal points of view, some researchers can easily fall into the trap of believing that this lack of opposing attitudes is the same as a group consensus. As stated by Sim (1998, p. 348), “the absence of diversity in the data does not reliably indicate an underlying consensus” but is rather a possible product of the group environment, which may mask individual opinions.

Alongside the potential downside of group dynamics is the critical role of the moderator. Professional moderators trained in the complexities of group interviewing are essential to the success Read Full Text

Strengths of the Focus Group Method: An Overview

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 111-112).


The unique advantage of the group discussion method is clearly the participant interaction and what it adds to (goes beyond) what might be learned from a series of in-depth interviews (IDIs). When conducted to achieve its full potential, the back-and-forth dialFocus groupsogue among the participants benefits the researcher (and the quality of the data) in several important respects:

  • A dynamic group discussion will often stimulate spontaneous ideas and personal disclosures that might otherwise go unstated in an IDI.
  • A relaxed, interactive, as well as a supportive (e.g., homogeneous) group environment can be conducive to discussing sensitive topics (e.g., a discussion of the immigration process among recent Chinese immigrants to the United States).
  • As participants exchange opinions, they consider their own views in relation to others’—which may encourage participants to refine their thoughts. In this way the group interaction gives the researcher insight into how people think about the topic(s) being studied and on what basis opinions may change. For example, in a focus group with college students who are considering various study-abroad programs, some participants might change their criteria for selecting one program over another after hearing other participants’ considerations. This discussion would help the researcher identify the important aspects of study-abroad programs that may impact students’ decision making.

Participant interaction, or the social aspect of focus group discussions, can be a particularly important advantage when conducting research with vulnerable and underserved population segments. For instance, women’s studies researchers such as Wilkinson (1999) believe that focus groups offer feminist psychologists an important research approach over other psychological research Read Full Text

Qualitative Analysis: ‘Thick Meaning’ by Preserving Each Lived Experience

My approach to qualitative data analysis has nothing to do with Post-it Notes, clipping excerpts from transcripts (digitally or with scissors), or otherwise breaking participants’ input (“data”) into bite-size pieces. My approach Thick meaningis the opposite of that. My goal is to gain an enriched understanding of each participant’s lived experience associated with the research questions and objectives and, from there, develop an informed contextually nuanced interpretation across participants. By way of deriving “thick meaning” within and across participants, I hope to provide the sponsor of the research with consequential and actionable outcomes.

I begin the analysis process immediately after completing the first in-depth interview (IDI) or focus group discussion by writing down (typically, in a spreadsheet) what I think I learned from each participant or group discussion pertaining to the key research questions and objectives as well as any new, unexpected yet relevant topic areas. I do this by referring to my in-session notes (for IDIs) and the IDI or group discussion audio recording. I then give thoughtful study and internalize each participant’s lived experience associated with the research questions and objectives which enables me to gain an understanding of the complexities of any one thought or idea while also respectfully preserving the integrity of the individual or group of individuals. “Preserving the integrity of the individual or group of individuals” is an important component of this approach which is grounded in the belief that researchers have a moral obligation to make a concerted effort to uphold each participant’s individuality to the extent possible in the analytical process.

At the completion of the final IDI or focus group discussion, I begin reflecting more heavily on what I learned from each participant Read Full Text