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A study on applying focus group interview on education.

I. Introduction

Focus group interview is a scientific qualitative research method, which has been extensively applied in academic areas over the past 20 years. However, this method is mostly applied in business studies. It is seldom adopted in other academic areas. Therefore, this study attempts to introduce this method in a systematic approach.

More and more research has pointed out that focus group interview is one of the most common methods for collecting qualitative data in the academic arena (Morgan 1996; Krueger & Casey, 2000; Bloor et al., 2001). The extensive application of focus group interview is mainly attributed to its ability and property of collecting qualitative data as well as pluralistic applications. Krueger & Casey (2000) pointed out that focus group interview is intended to make a group of people with specific attributes provide qualitative data related to the research topic in a comfortable environment, under the guidance of a moderator, and through group discussions. In other words, a focus group is a special group with a specific intention, in a specific composition, and required to complete a certain process (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Besides, Morgan (1997) also pointed out that the applications of focus group interview can be used in 3 types: 1. It can be an independent research method: This indicates that data collection is completely obtained through focus group interview, and it is not necessary to employ other research methods; 2. It can be an auxiliary research method: Focus group interview is usually used to support quantitative studies as a data source. It is also a method for continuous investigations when the understanding about research results is limited; and 3. It can be one of the multiple methods adopted by a research: The purpose of using multiple research methods is to understand the various phenomena in a study. Whether a focus group interview is necessary depends on the researcher's need for research data, situations and factors in the research environment.

II. Principles of a Focus Croup

One of the key factors in focus group interviews is that participants can converse with other people in a comfortable way. Under this condition, the composition of a focus group is very important. This study will discuss the principles for composing a focus group from 3 aspects, including classification of groups, size of a group, and number of interviews.

1. Classification of groups

There is no principle defining whether all the participants involved should be completely strangers or acquaintances. Nelson & Frontczak (1998) pointed out that no matter the participants are strangers or acquaintances, the difference in their opinions on the discussed topic is not significant, quantitatively or qualitatively. Morgan (1998) thought that the focus of classification should be placed on "research purposes". If the subjects required by a research purpose are people in the same institution or organization, it will be hard to avoid acquaintances.

2. Size of a group

The size of a focus group is closely related to recruitment conditions and research purposes (Morgan, 1998). So far, there is no conclusion about how many participants should be involved in a focus group. Morgan (1998) thought that the number should be between 6 and 10, but according to Merton, Fiske & Kendall (1990), 8-12 will be more proper. Fem (1982) further pointed out that the number of people in a focus group ranges from 5 to 12. It can be discovered that there is no certain principle defining the number of people to be involved in a focus group, and it depends on research purpose. However, it is true that the number of people involved in a focus group is correlated with the amount and quality of collected data. It is revealed in Fem (1982) that opinions provided by a 4-participant group will be fewer than those by an 8-participant group, and the quality will also be inferior. However, Morgan (1998) also pointed out that if the group size is too big, it may be hard to moderate the focus interview, and the responsibility for each participant to provide opinions will also be reduced.

3. Number of interviews

The number of focus group interviews is also an important issue for researchers. So far, there is no particular rule of the number of interviews, but according to Krueger & Casey (2000), "saturation of opinions" is the principle for adding or reducing the number of interviews. If new opinions are constantly proposed after 4-5 interviews, researchers should consider adding more interviews. If no more opinions or data are proposed in the discussion, the interviews can be either terminated or reduced. Insufficient interviews may lead to the loss of certain important information, but excessive interviews may also cause the waste in time and cost. Thus, the number of interviews should be determined by the balance between research information and research resource.

III. Questionnaire Design for Focus Group Interview

Questionnaire content is another important factor of focus group interviews. Thus, questionnaire design is very critical. This study will also discuss the principles for designing a questionnaire for focus group interviews from two aspects, questions and sequence of questions.

Questions in the questionnaire

According to Krueger (1998) and Krueger & Casey (2000), the design of questionnaires for focus group interviews should comply with the following principles:

1. Questions are understandable by participants.

2. Questions are clear and simple.

3. Questions are as colloquial as daily conversations.

4. Questions can be easily recited.

5. Questions should be open-ended.

6. Each question can aim at only one thing.

7. Examples should be carefully made, so as to avoid misguidance.

8. Avoid asking "Why". If necessary, it should be rewritten as "What is the reason ..." so as to have a deeper understanding about the reason and extent.

9. Questions should be designed after clear and comprehensive considerations, so that participants are able to answer in a definitive way.

Sequence of questions

Krueger (1998) pointed out that the sequence of questions in questionnaire is usually:

1. Opening:

* Each participant is required to introduce themselves within 30 seconds to 1 minute.

2. Introductory questions

* There are about 1-2 questions of this kind. Each question should be discussed for no longer than 5 minutes. Questions of this kind aim to establish participants' connection with the discussed topic.

3. Transfer questions:

* There are about 1-2 questions of this kind, and each question should be discussed for no longer than 7-8 minutes. These questions serve as the bridge between introductory questions and key questions but are deeper than introductory questions. Introductory questions aim to introduce the discussed topic, but transfer questions are intended to realistically connect participants to the discussed topic. Participants will start to perceive opinions shared by other participants at this moment.

4. Key questions:

* There are about 2-3 questions of this kind. Each question requires a longer time for discussion, but the duration should be between 10-15 minutes. These questions are the core of focus group interview. They are usually discussed when the group discussion has proceeded halfway of the entire session. Besides, they are also the focuses of the research questions.

5. Specific questions:

* There are about 1-2 questions of this kind, and the total discussion time allowed for these questions should be between 10-15 minutes. Depending on the requirement of the research, researchers can request participants to discuss questions deeper than the key questions on certain points.

6. Closing questions:

* There is usually 1 question of this kind, and 3-5 minutes are allowed. This kind of question will request participants to make a conclusion and confirm the answers provided earlier.

7. Final question:

* There is usually 1 question of this kind, and 3-5 minutes are allowed. To avoid any negligence, participants are required to provide suggestions and opinions about the discussed topic, such as "Do you think there is something we should have discussed but we did not?" This kind of question can be determined by the researcher by the realistic situations.

If questions are designed and arranged by this sequence, Morgan (1997) thought that the questionnaire structure will be in a funneled shape, as shown in Figure 1. This kind of design will allow researchers to obtain the personal perspectives of each participant in the first section and other opinions related to the discussed topic in the final section.

VI. Conclusion

It can be discovered from this study that group classification, size of group, and number of interviews are not limited to any principle and can be determined by various research conditions. However, there are some consistent principles for questionnaire design and sequence of questions. So far, focus group interview is mostly applied in business studies in Taiwan, and is not widely adopted in other academic areas. Thus, through the introduction and discussion of this method, this study attempted to provide an option of methodology for researchers in education-related areas as a basis for applications in other studies.


Bloor, M., Jane, F., Michelle, T., & Kate, R. (2001). Focus Groups in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fern, E. F. (1982). The Use of Focus Groups for Idea Generation: The Effects of Group Size, Acquaintanceship, and Moderator on Response Quantity and Quality. Journal of Marketing Research, XIX'. 1-13.

Krueger, R. A. (1998). Developing Questions for Focus Groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2000). Focus Group: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Merton, R. K., Fiske, M., & Kendall, P. L. (1990). The Focus Interview. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Morgan, D. L. (1996). Focus Groups. Annual Review of Sociology, 22,129-152.

Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus Groups as Qualitative Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Morgan, D. L. (1998). Planning Focus Groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nelson, J. E., & Frontczak, N. T. (1988). How Acquaintanceship and Analyst Can Influence Focus Group Results. Journal of Advertising, 77(1), 41-48.


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Author:Cheng, Kai-Wen
Publication:Reading Improvement
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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