Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Qualitative Research: Introducing focus groups

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 29 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:299
  1. Jenny Kitzinger, research fellowa
  1. 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


    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 …

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