The most important question any researcher needs to ask themselves is this: what do I want to find out? Research takes a lot of forms and it can be hard to know which method will work best for your project.
To start, researchers should think about how both qualitative and quantitative research can give insight into a research topic; depending on the research process that's used, it's easy to plan a project effectively.
Focus group research is a popular qualitative research method that's used to get insight from a group of people. Focus groups bring together a small group of people, usually to answer a series of questions and report on the responses. The conversation in a focus group is usually led by a moderator.
Focus group research shows depth of feeling in the group's responses: they use open conversation instead of simple, restricted answers to make for a more complete perspective. This means qualitative research is harder to analyze than quantitative research because the research data - the responses to questions - can end up being different for each person in the group.
Focus groups are a sure-fire way to hit different types of research goals, including market research goals and academic research goals. If your company is driving a product toward middle-aged moms next quarter, getting in-depth insight into how middle-aged moms view your new product is infinitely valuable to the way your marketing team positions the product. And recording the subtle interpersonal communication patterns that happen in academic focus groups is data that you just don't get from a survey or one-on-one interview.
For starters, you'll get a better understanding of the attitudes and emotions multiple people have about the topic when you analyze the focus group transcripts. Longer-form answers and discussion around a topic give you real insight into emotional response - you're not likely to get such in-depth results from a simple questionnaire. With a focus group, you can pick up on the LOLs and energetic responses, and you'll never miss the way one of your participants seems to have negative feelings about your topic by the way they keep chiming in. These are things a simple 'Yes' or 'No' on a sheet of paper would definitely miss.
Depending on what your goals are for the group session, you'll need to make some preparations for the interview. Focus group interviews have to be in neutral settings where you control the environment. Unless the interview takes place online, you'll be able to choose the best environment for your interview. The success of your focus group depends on how well the moderator leads and guides the session. If you're the moderator, you'll need to put together notes on key preparation tactics. Here are some key steps to get the setting right.
It's not called a 'focus' group for nothing. Choose a clear, concise topic for discussion. As a moderator you'll have the job of keeping everyone on track so you can get the most from the session. You're there to get the opinions and follow the discussion of your target market - or a demographic whose opinion is valuable to your research - so have purpose, and stick to it. And if the conversation starts to wander away from the focus, don't be afraid to get it back on track.
This one is essential. For your focus group to have any value, you need to really define your target market and make sure they're well represented at the group. Thinking of targeting 'middle-aged moms'? Way too broad. Mothers with an income of $50K plus who have teenage children and an interest in motorsports sounds more like it. Filling your focus group with people from your target market is a wise way to get varied opinions from within the demographic, and find trends in the way these people think.
The same is true for academic focus groups. You didn't choose a wishy-washy thesis, so choose participants who are an exact match for your research. There are no exceptions in the world of scientific research studies, so choosing people who almost fit the target demographic isn't good enough.
You might want to consider organizing a control group, too, with participants from outside your target. This will give you a broader understanding of how those outside your target are thinking, too, which is a really powerful comparison tool.
Distractions will take away from the 'focus' of the group. Make sure everyone is comfortable in a neutral setting, and that your recording device is within range of everyone - preferably everyone will have their own microphone so that you can get really clear audio. You'll want to transcribe the interview later and the better quality the audio, the more accurate the transcript will be. Make sure you create an inclusive space where participants feel comfortable sharing their views. Take the head of the table and lead the chat with openness, and you'll get honest results.
One of the most effective ways to get valuable qualitative data is to leave your participants alone and let them do their thing, monitoring conversation as they talk. But you also need clear talking points and questions to guide them along the way. Prepare your questions carefully and know when to interject with the next talking point as the session goes on. The more you can optimize your research interviews, the better.