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Social Research Glossary

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© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 28 January, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY: Flow of focus group research (Billson, 2006)

Janet Bilson (2006, pp. 7–8) identifies nine points that should be taken into account when undertaking focus groups. The flow of focus group research includes:

1) Conceptualisation of the key research question: This comes first, and involves clarifying the key research question the focus groups are supposed to answer, why the study is important, and how the data will be used.

2) Design of the research approach: If researchers work hard to articulate the key question, but fail to create a design that does not have the power to answer that question, the project will fail to produce the desired results.

3) Development of the moderator's guide: If a strong design fits the key question well, but the moderator's guide is weak, the project will flounder.

4) Recruitment of participants: If the key question, research design, and guide are strong, but the team cannot recruit proper respondents, data will be suspect.

5) Group moderation. If all the building blocks are in place for a quality focus group project, but the moderator has poor skills and biases responses, study will not generate rich, appropriate data. If the moderator allows three or four people to dominate the conversation, then data are lost from 60 or 70 per cent of the carefully recruited respondents. That negates the research design.

6) Debriefing with observers/researchers: Insights generated during the debriefing with the research team and collaborators, held immediately after each focus group when the data are fresh, may enhance data analysis. Omitting this process represents a lost opportunity to identify “top of mind” themes and patterns.

7) Data analysis: If the focus group process has worked well, it will produce "mountains of words"—qualitative data that requires special analytical techniques. If the data analysis is weak, the project suffers.

8) Presentation of findings in oral, written, video, or combined formats: The researchers must report findings in a way that is meaningful and useful to others. Reports that are too long, too detailed, or badly written can obscure the findings from even the most well-conceived and implemented focus groups.

9) Follow-up: To improve future focus group findings, it helps to follow up with parties involved to explore how to conduct such a project more effectively in the future and the impacts (if any) the project findings have had on the community....Keeping the entire flow of focus group in mind during planning will help to avoid serious misjudgments in timing, staffing, and allocation of resources. However, the flow may not be as linear as this model suggests. For example, the act of developing a moderator's guide may help sharpen conceptualization of the research question, or debriefing may result in adding, dropping, or rewording moderator's guide questions. Similarly, the final report's conclusions and recommendations may lead to more focus groups on the topic, thus extending the research design. On the other hand, if serious discussions about conceptualization of the research question do not precede development of the guide, it will not produce relevant data.



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