Introducing Focus Groups

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Qualitative Research: Introducing focus groups
Jenny Kitzinger, research fellowa
+ Author Affiliations
aGlasgow University Media Group, Department of Sociology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8LF This paper introduces focus group methodology, gives advice on group composition, running the groups, and analysing the results. Focus groups have advantages for researchers in the field of health and medicine: they do not discriminate against people who cannot read or write and they can encourage participation from people reluctant to be interviewed on their own or who feel they have nothing to say. This is the fifth in a series of seven articles describing non-quantitative techniques and showing their value in health research **FIGURE OMITTED**

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Rationale and uses of focus groups
Focus groups are a form of group interview that capitalises on communication between research participants in order to generate data. Although group interviews are often used simply as a quick and convenient way to collect data from several people simultaneously, focus groups explicitly use group interaction as part of the method. This means that instead of the researcher asking each person to respond to a question in turn, people are encouraged to talk to one another: asking questions, exchanging anecdotes and commenting on each other's experiences and points of view.1 The method is particularly useful for exploring people's knowledge and experiences and can be used to examine not only what people think but how they think and why they think that way. Focus groups were originally used within communication studies to explore the effects of films and television programmes,2 and are a popular method for assessing health education messages and examining public understandings of illness and of health behaviours.3 4 5 6 7 They are widely used to examine people's experiences of disease and of health services.8 9 and are an effective technique for exploring the attitudes and needs of staff.10 11 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. Group discussion is particularly appropriate when the interviewer has a series of open ended questions and wishes to encourage research participants to explore the issues of importance to them, in their own vocabulary, generating their own questions and pursuing their own priorities. When group dynamics work well the participants work alongside the researcher, taking the research in new and often unexpected directions. Group work also helps researchers tap into the many different forms of communication that people use in day to day interaction, including jokes, anecdotes, teasing, and arguing. Gaining access to such variety of communication is useful because people's knowledge and attitudes are not entirely encapsulated in reasoned responses to direct questions. Everyday forms of communication may tell us as much, if not more, about what people know or experience. In this sense focus groups reach the parts that other methods cannot reach, revealing dimensions of understanding that often remain untapped by more conventional data collection techniques. Some potential sampling advantages with focus groups

Do not discriminate against people who cannot read or write
Can encourage participation from those who are reluctant to be interviewed on their own (such as those intimidated by the formality and isolation of a one to one interview) Can encourage contributions from people who feel they have nothing to say or who are deemed “unresponsive patients” (but engage in the discussion generated by other group members) Tapping into such interpersonal communication is also important because this can highlight (sub)cultural values or group norms. Through analysing the operation of humour, consensus, and dissent and examining different types of narrative used within the...
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