GuidesResearch methodsA guide to focus group interviews

A guide to focus group interviews

Last updated

12 March 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Focus groups are well-suited for situations where the opinions of others matter. They reveal detailed information as participants are allowed to give their honest views. Learn the basics of focus group interviews and how to conduct them to get the most accurate information for your research.

Analyze focus group sessions

Dovetail streamlines focus group research to help you understand the responses and find patterns faster

Analyze with Dovetail

What is a focus group?

A focus group is a technique in qualitative research to collect data through group discussions. A group of five to 10 people answers questions on a specific topic in a moderated setting.

The person who runs the focus group is the moderator. They’re in charge of leading the members through the discussion and taking notes of the group’s opinions.

Characteristics of a focus group

The characteristics of a focus group include:

  • A specific discussion topic

  • A facilitator

  • Carefully planned group discussions

  • Similar characteristics across the participants

Five different types of focus groups

There are several types of focus groups. They include:

1. Dual moderator focus group

This involves two moderators, each with different roles. For example, one may take notes while the other facilitates the discussion. 

2. Two-way focus group

One group watches and listens to what another group is discussing and later comments on what they have heard or observed. Again, both groups have facilitators. 

3. Client-involvement focus group

This focus group includes representatives from the company you’re studying. The client is part of the discussion and steers the discussion toward the main objective.

4. Mini focus group

A mini focus group involves a smaller group of participants, typically four or five. 

5. Online focus groups

In online focus groups, participants contribute to the discussion remotely via video chat. 

The purpose of focus group interviews

The primary purpose of a focus group interview is to gather qualitative insights from people with specific knowledge of a particular topic or product. Other purposes of focus groups include:

  • Identifying how people use products

  • Testing new ideas

  • Understanding customer needs

  • Understanding customers' dissatisfaction with certain products

  • Listening to your customers’ discussion about your products 

  • Viewing brand perception in the community

When to use a focus group interview

You should use focus group interviews when:

  • Exploring or generating hypotheses

  • You want a better understanding of the results of a primary quantitative research

  • Seeking a more interactive research method

  • You can’t explain a problem by any other method

  • Understanding complex phenomena, behaviors, or motivations

Logistical considerations of a focus group

Some of the logistical considerations to prioritize are:

Recruiting the right participants

Since focus groups rely on a small number of respondents, it’s essential to recruit suitable participants for effective results. 

The common criteria for selecting the right participants are choosing members with knowledge of the subject. Other popular recruiting methods are:

  • Random selection: Drawing names of participants from a large group of people

  • Nomination: Where key individuals suggest people they think are a good choice

  • Volunteering: Where you recruit participants through newspaper ads or flyers 

Selecting the right moderator

It’s necessary to select the right facilitator to steer the discussion in the right direction. 

They should also have: 

  • Adequate topic knowledge

  • Facilitator experience 

  • Knowledge of focus group techniques and moderation

  • The ability to empathize with the group 

  • The skills to direct the discussion

Choosing the venue

You should carefully choose the location to match the expectations of the respondent group. 

It should be accessible to all, have ample parking, and be well-connected by public transport. This ensures that participants arrive on time without any difficulties. 

The room should be free from distractions and the appropriate size for the participants. Participants are more likely to feel comfortable expressing opinions in a relaxing environment. 

Ensuring working equipment

The moderator should check the equipment beforehand to ensure it works. This includes ensuring audio or video recording tools are well-serviced and functioning as required. 

You need to inform the participants that you may record the session. It’s important to receive permission to record and get participants to sign NDAs if they’re discussing sensitive ideas. 

Selecting the right incentives

It’s standard practice to offer respondents incentives to thank them for showing up. 

You may need to provide incentives to keep the participants focused and content. 

Some incentive ideas include: 

  • Monetary compensation

  • Gift cards

  • Company merchandise

  • Free lunch

  • Prize draws

  • Vouchers

  • Free transport

Proper time management

When conducting focus group interviews, keep the sessions short. Focus group interviews should typically last 60–90 minutes. The longer the discussion, the less interested the participants will likely be, so the sessions become less lively.

How to conduct focus group interviews

Follow these steps when conducting a focus group interview:

Prepare an interview schedule

First, write out a list of questions and topics for the discussion. This ensures clear objectives from the start. Keep your interview questions:

  • Short and clear

  • On topic and in line with your research objectives 

  • Open-ended

  • Unambiguously worded

  • Well-structured

With the efficient use of an interview guide, the moderator will periodically check to ensure that the discussion is progressing appropriately.


Moderating involves keeping the interactions flowing and guiding the group whenever they veer off to irrelevant topics. 

While moderating, the facilitator should let the participants know they are part of the team. In addition, the moderator should use pauses and probes. 

Examples of probes include: 

  • Please elaborate more

  • Can you tell me more about that? 

The moderator can curb distractions with: 

  • We’re not discussing that topic at the moment

  • That sounds unrelated; maybe we can come back to that later

Additionally, the moderator must regulate and control group dynamics. This includes research-endangering social conformity. 

Should your group have a louder or more persuasive voice, the rest could naturally agree with their perspectives and opinions. This can quickly turn a diverse focus group and data set into an expensive single-minded response from your whole group. 

Tactics to consider include timing and moderating responses carefully, providing post-its for participants to respond with, or creating exercises to ensure every voice is equal.

Starting the focus group

The moderator should spend the first few minutes of the discussion creating an open and permissive atmosphere for all the participants. The moderator can start by welcoming the members and giving an overview of the discussion. 

Leading the discussion

Once the moderator establishes rapport, they set ground rules and welcome follow-up questions. 

The moderator should ask questions methodically. Once they’ve asked all the questions, it’s time to wrap up with final thoughts. 

Finally, the moderator can thank the participants and end the session. 

Addressing common focus group challenges

Here are three common challenges of focus groups and how to address them.

1. Managing group dynamics

Domineering people can lead a discussion and skew research findings. If more than one strong personality is in the room, hostility or outright fights can derail productivity. 

Agreeable or more introverted individuals in the group may go along with whatever voice they are most persuaded or intimidated by. This means you may never discover their true opinions. 

Consider the following tips to make all participants comfortable during the discussion:

  • Start the session with a warm-up activity for all members to get comfortable

  • Use icebreakers such as two truths and one lie

  • Use a mix of written and verbal participation techniques for maximum contribution 

2. Facilitator bias

Moderators can negatively impact the outcome of the discussion. This happens when the facilitator selects people with positive responses that align with their opinions. 

Although bias is challenging to eliminate, noting potential sources of bias can address the challenge. Moderators can mitigate bias by remaining objective, being self-aware, using neutral language, and minding body language. 

3. The results may not be representative

Often, you cannot generalize the results from a small group to a larger group. Therefore, you should choose participants who represent the target audience to address this challenge. 

Advantages of focus groups

 Focus groups offer several advantages, including:

  • Understanding the subject matter and customer base in their own words

  • Recording facial expressions and other nonverbal signs

  • Generating results in 90-minute sessions

  • A deeper understanding of the respondents through personal interaction

  • Listening in on conversations about your product you otherwise would never hear

Disadvantages of focus groups

Face-to-face focus group interviews also have a few drawbacks.

  • Geographical restrictions can cause issues if participants have to travel to participate. 

  • Some members may shy away and contribute less to the discussion.

  • The discussion may veer toward irrelevant topics, so a strong facilitator is crucial.

  • The follow-up probes might take longer.

  • Paying a group rather than individuals can be costly and risks conforming to one voice.

Sample focus group interview questions

The interview questions should be engaging, explorative, and open-ended.

For instance, when discussing a topic that tests a phone's performance in the market:

Engagement questions to ask a focus group about their phones:

  • Which is your favorite phone?

  • What do you consider when buying a new phone?

Exploration questions can include:

  • Who influenced you to purchase the phone you are currently using?

  • What are the advantages of using the phone brand?

  • How do you feel about changing to other brands?

Exit questions ensure nothing has been left out. Sample interview questions could include:

  • Is there anyone who would like to add to what we’ve said?

  • Does anyone have any final thoughts?


How are focus group interviews conducted?

Focus groups involve 6–10 respondents coming together for a guided discussion. During the session, the members answer predetermined questions to gather their opinions and motivations about a particular topic. 

Why are focus group interviews better?

Typically, this research method can unearth detailed information while observing the respondent's body language. You can collect multiple findings while witnessing the group's thought process.

What should be discussed in a focus group?

Participants of focus groups are free to share their opinions, insights, and knowledge about a specific topic. 

How do you plan a focus group question?

The questions in a focus group discussion should be explorative, open-ended, carefully worded, and unbiased. You should write them to fit what your research study is trying to uncover.

Get started today

Go from raw data to valuable insights with a flexible research platform

Start freeContact sales

Editor’s picks

How to create a helpful research paper outline

Last updated: 21 December 2023

How to craft an APA abstract

Last updated: 16 December 2023

Diary study templates

Last updated: 10 April 2023

How to do AI content analysis: A full guide

Last updated: 20 December 2023

Related topics

Patient experienceResearch methodsSurveysMarket researchCustomer researchUser experience (UX)Product developmentEmployee experience


ChannelsMagicIntegrationsEnterpriseInsightsAnalysisPricingLog in


About us
© Dovetail Research Pty. Ltd.
TermsPrivacy Policy

Log in or sign up

Get started for free


By clicking “Continue with Google / Email” you agree to our User Terms of Service and Privacy Policy