Discuss the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Focus Groups as a Research Tool

Topics: Focus group, Qualitative research, Quantitative research Pages: 13 (5124 words) Published: September 29, 2008
This essay is going to analyse the use of focus groups as a research method in modern day social sciences. The disadvantages and the advantages will be discussed, and furthermore the use of focus groups as a research method against using other research methods will be evaluated. A case study will also be reviewed in order to describe the use of focus groups; furthermore the case study would be critically discussed in order to reflect on the success or the failure of the study. Using this case study, a dissertation topic will be written about; the dissertation topic that one has chosen is how Muslim women keep in touch with British culture as well as their own Islam culture when there are so many contradictions between the two. A focus group is becoming a more common technique in order to interview participants, they have been used in market research since the 1920s (Basch, 1987), and they were also used to gauge the public’s morale during world war two, by Merton (Merton and Kendall, 1955). It was here that the term “focussed interview” was coined and ever since they have become more and more frequent in the social sciences. The group is classed as focus as they do an activity together, such as discuss issues or read a magazine for example. However, the main aim of this technique is to see the interaction between participants and thus it is a useful tool in interviewing. Also, one other aspect of focus groups is that not only do they gauge the interaction between participants but also the observer can oversee “collective remembering” as shown by a study partaken by Kitzinger. He explored how people talked about AIDs by using participants who knew each other, through this he was able to see the interactions as they naturally would, or “naturally occurring data” (Kitzinger, 1994: 105). Therefore, focus groups are an important tool for gathering data in the field of social sciences. Also a focus group is more than a group interview “because of the community of interest shared by the group and the use of participants’ interaction as research data.” (Burton, 2000) Focus groups are used to produce quantitative data but more often then not they are used to produce qualitative data. Quantitative research is when one collects evidence using numeric facts and figures. These will generally be analysed by the use of statistic techniques as opposed to qualitative research. This is when evidence is collected through opinions or points of view. As focus groups are discussions and opinions about certain research topics, they serve the purpose of providing in depth information rather than figures of data, also these are not quantifiable (Suler, 1995), as would be the case in qualitative research. Also for focus groups, the interpretation or analysis of this method occurs through a number of different approaches such as content analysis (Remenyi, 1996). This is opposed to qualitative research where example include case studies, surveys and evaluation research which produce quantifiable data. There are many advantages to focus groups. According to the American Statistical Association (1997), focus groups do not involve complicated sampling methods once one has the data; this is opposed to surveys where one must select a reprehensive sample of the entire population. When one uses focus groups, only a planned sample is needed and the demographic of the sample that one has chosen is a method of focussing the outcome of the picked focus group. Also, focus groups are relatively cheap compared to other methods of interviewing or participant based observations. Therefore, one of the advantages of focus groups is that complicated sampling methods are not needed as in the case for other research methods and that they are relatively cheap compared to other methods as well.

There are other advantages to using focus groups as well, one such advantage of using focus group as a method is research is that this method can be tailored to the level of...
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