Skip to Main Content

Qualitative study design

Focus Groups


Focus groups bring individuals from the study population together in a specific setting in order to discuss an issue as a group. The discussion generates research data.


Focus groups typically have these features:

  • Four to ten participants meeting for up to two hours
  • A facilitator or facilitators to guide discussion using open-ended questions
  • An emphasis on the group talking among itself rather than to the facilitator
  • Discussion is recorded and then transcribed for analysis by researchers

Researchers conduct several individual focus group meetings to produce a series. The number of focus groups in the series depends on the study’s aim, methods and resources.

Focus groups use a group setting to generate data different to that obtained in a one-to-one interview. The group context may allow for better examination of beliefs, attitudes, values, perspectives, knowledge and ideas.

Focus groups can be useful in action research methodology and other study designs which seek to empower research participants. Focus groups are also useful in multimethod studies utilising different forms of data collection.


strengths Strengths

  • Quick way to collect data from several people 
  • Produces data unique to group setting (e.g. teasing, arguing and non-verbal behaviour) due to the interaction between participants. This is a unique feature of focus groups. 
  • Unlike written questionnaires, focus groups don’t rely on participant literacy to generate data 
  • Can encourage participation from marginalised groups 
  • Can facilitate discussion of stigmatised or counter-cultural topics due to feeling of mutual support among focus group participants 
  • Can generate more critical comments than individual interviews. This is valuable for research aimed at improving products or services. 
  • Can be used to validate findings from quantitative research methods by providing a deeper understanding that statistics cannot.


limitations Limitations

  • Individual perspectives that dissent from the focus group’s majority may remain hidden due to overriding behavioural or cultural norms, or a desire to be seen as conforming. 
  • Confidentiality of individual responses is compromised due to the existence of the group 
  • Only applicable when the population of interest has shared social and cultural experience or share common areas of concern. 
  • Group discussion does not provide enough depth for researchers to understand experiences, especially in comparison to in-depth interviews. 
  • Data is representative of the range of views in a population, not the prevalence of such views. 
  • The facilitator has a strong effect on the focus groups behaviour and can therefore influence the extent to which issues or views are explored. 
  • Data analysis is usually very time consuming due to the quantity produced.


iconExample questions

  • What are the experiences, needs and wishes of mothers who received midwifery care at tertiary hospitals in Victoria, Australia?
  • How useful is the patient perspective for the creation of an information information booklet for patients with liver cancer?
  • What factors influence nursing students' development of end-of-life communication skills?


iconExample studies

Harrison, M., Ryan, T., Gardiner, C., & Jones, A. (2017). Psychological and emotional needs, assessment, and support post-stroke: a multi-perspective qualitative study. Top Stroke Rehabil, 24(2), 119-125. doi: 10.1080/10749357.2016.1196908

Shilubane, H. N., Ruiter, R. A., Bos, A. E., Reddy, P. S., & van den Borne, B. (2014). High school students' knowledge and experience with a peer who committed or attempted suicide: a focus group study. BMC Public Health, 14, 1081. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-1081

Wiles, J. L., Leibing, A., Guberman, N., Reeve, J., & Allen, R. E. (2012). The meaning of "aging in place" to older people. Gerontologist, 52(3), 357-366. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnr098 


Kitzinger, J. (1995). Qualitative research: introducing focus groups. BMJ, 311(7000), 299. doi: 10.1136/bmj.311.7000.299 

Rice, P. L., & Ezzy, D. (1999). Qualitative research methods: a health focus. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.