March 15 2013
A moderator or facilitator
Several interviewees at once (four or more)
May bring out a wide variety of perspectives on an issue.
Brings out why people feel the way they do.
Brings out how individuals collectively make decisions and interpretations.
(a premise of symbolic interactionism)
Interviewee’s may show conformity or become argumentative.
Challenging by other interviewees may result in more realistic accounts of
what people believe.
How many groups?
Usually about 10 to 15
More if necessary for demographics
Enough for theoretical saturation
Researchers can predict what will be said
Size of groups
Depends on the topic and the goals of the research
Morgan (1998): six to ten people
Smaller group if the topics are controversial, complex, emotional
Enlist people unknown to each other, or natural groups?
Natural groups: people who already know each other or already have had some
May be appropriate, depending on the goals of the research.
E.g. Kitzinger (1993, 1994)
Useful if the research is actually about how social interaction occurs.
Pre-existing styles of interaction or status hierarchies may affect the
The group may have taken-for-granted assumptions that are not challenged.
Asking questions in focus groups
Usually a small number of general questions is used.
Opening, clarifying or refocusing the group
Amount of intervention taken by the moderator depends on the topic of the
how much knowledge the participants have;
the goals of the research.
With the purpose being generation of discussion among a group, the use of
an electronic recorder is all the more important.
Limitations of Focus Groups Soc 232
March 15 2013
Less control over discussion than interview.
An unwieldy amount of data may be produced.
The data may be difficult to analyze.
Group effects. Personality dynamics (dominant, quiet). There is evidence
that group situation generates conformity.
E.g. difference in expression of boys regarding relationships with girls in a
private interview or focus group. Sensitivity replaced by machismo.
Difficult when sensitive issues, social hierarchy, strongly opposed positions.
Online Focus Groups
Six to eight people
May be more difficult to moderate
Several responses at once
Flow is difficult
Overcomes geographical issues and sensitive topics
Visual biases reduced
Less reactive response to moderators
Often a safe and friendly environment,
Done at home
Disadvantages of Online Focus Groups Compared to Face-to-Face Focus
More difficult to establish rapport.
More difficult to probe.
Moderator cannot read body language.
Can’t identify distracted participants.
Online connection may be lost.
Ethnography (immersed in a social setting) vs. Qualitative Interviewing
Advantages of Ethnography / Participant Observation
Better for ‘seeing through the eyes of others.’
Better for learning the ‘native language.’
Can discover ‘things taken for granted.’
Better for uncovering deviant/hidden activities.
Can establish context of people’s behaviour.