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Focus Groups

A focus group is a moderated discussion that typically involves 5 to 10 participants.  Through a focus group, you can learn about users’ attitudes, beliefs, desires, and reactions to concepts.

How a Focus Group Differs from a Usability Test or Contextual Interview

Focus groups are a traditional market research technique. Marketing departments are often more familiar with focus groups than with usability testing or contextual interviews. However, the techniques produce different kinds of information.

  • In a typical focus group, participants talk.  During the focus group users tell you about their experiences or expectations but you don’t get to verify or observe these experiences.
  • In a typical usability test or contextual interview, users act.  As a result, you are able to watch (and listen to) them and draw conclusions from that.

Choosing Participants

An important aspect of focus groups is getting the feedback from your target audiences/ demographics. 

people in a focus group

When recruiting, researchers usually select participants based on specific traits or characteristics, including:

  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Ethnicity

Conducting Focus Groups

When conducting a focus group:

  • Decide on the range of topics you would like to cover before the session
  • Pretest questions to ensure they are clear and logical
  • Develop open-ended questions to encourage discussion
  • Arrange questions in a way that flows naturally
  • Hire a skilled moderator to facilitate the discussion
  • Create a script so the moderator knows what to ask and which topics to cover
  • Allow the moderator to change the order of questions and topics to keep the discussion flowing smoothly
  • Plan to spend about two hours with the group
  • Tape the sessions
  • Have one or more note takers to ensure everything is captured