What is a focus group

A focus group can be defined as a group interview centered on a specific topic and coordinated by one person, usually called moderator or facilitator. The aim of this research technique is generate primarily qualitative data, by observing and analyzing the interaction that occurs within the group.

The earliest use of this method was in a research carried out in the 1950s by the sociologist Robert Merton, considered now its founder. Actually, its invention is largely due to the limitation found in the use of in-depth interviews as the only way to obtain relevant qualitative data. Hence, the description of the focus group is usually made in comparison to one to one interviews. This idea is very well expressed by Kitzinger (1995) who defines this technique as follow:

“The idea behind the focus group method is that group processes can help people to explore and clarify their views in ways that would be less easily accessible in a one to one interview”

There are also other benefits from using focus group, some of them are covered in a previous post under the title “Advantages of focus group”. Enough to say here the minor risk of bias by the interviewer, the greater interactivity and spontaneity.

Despite the organization of a focus group may be seen as a simple meeting to discuss on a specific topic and so that doable even for non-experience researcher, its correct application strongly depends in a thorough design. Visit this post to get further details on it. Enough to say here that When setting a focus group, it is generally felt that 8-12 is a suitable number of participants (Krueger, 2008; Ibañez, 1979) Although smaller groups of 4-6 have been used, like the one carried out by Strong et al (1994)

There are different kinds of focus group. The main distinction is according to how diligent the moderator/facilitator is. This is usually connected with the research purpose. For instance, when the research is rather exploratory, the moderator will tend to formulate general questions and be open to redirect the discussion guide. Hence, his or her participation will be reduced to such role as prevent single participants from dominating the discussion, redirect the discussion in case of digression and other suggested in this previous post. It could the case that the moderator stay in a secondary plane as far as the discussion among participants is vivid and provide relevant data. On the other hand, there are also more diligent and question-oriented focus group where the role of the moderator is more visible. There are a number of questions pre-design and the moderator must pose them throughout the discussion. This is the case of this video. There it is clear how predominant the moderator role is, formulating many questions, pointing some of the participants and even standing up.

It is also common the use of projective techniques in order to explore thoughts and feelings about the subject, and in the emotional depth. Some of the techniques that may be Collage-building, Brand personification, Guided Journey or Pictorial symbols. This techniques are used extensively in exploring brand image and development of creative concepts for products/services and advertising. A few of the questions addressed in Projective Focus Groups have included: Is this the right name for the product? What feelings are evoked by our brand? By the competitor? What mood should our advertising and collateral material invoke?

Finally, the focus group as a research method, as well as the qualitative approach in general, has appreciably evolved over the last decade in terms of way it can be applied. For this reason we can also find other varieties of focus groups as the ones exposed bellow:

  • Two-way focus group – one focus group watches another focus group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusion
  • Dual moderator focus group – one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another ensures that all the topics are covered
  • Dueling moderator focus group – two moderators deliberately take opposite sides on the issue under discussion
  • Respondent moderator focus group – one and only one of the respondents are asked to act as the moderator temporarily
  • Client participant focus groups – one or more client representatives participate in the discussion, either covertly or overtly
  • Mini focus groups – groups are composed of four or five members rather than 6 to 12
  • Teleconference focus groups – telephone network is used
  • Online focus groups – computers connected via the internet are used.



Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.

Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2008). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. SAGE Publications, Incorporated.




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