Focus Groups Guide

Part 3 Focus Group Recruitment

Recruitment planning is critical. The focus group’s composition and, ultimately, its findings depend on the effective recruitment of participants.

Who Do You Need to Reach?

Recruitment design derives from the goal(s) of the research. Who do you need to talk to in order to answer your questions and/or to explore and discover new insights? Do you want to hear from your current readership or would you like to talk to nonreaders to discover ways of reaching a larger portion of the community? The filters applied and the methods and approaches taken for recruitment hinge upon careful reflection on what group(s) or eligibility criteria will best address your goals and questions.

Avoiding Recruiting Bias

When considering the method or means of recruitment, there should be careful consideration of possible recruiting bias. This bias occurs when certain individuals or groups are excluded from the focus group for reasons not specified in the research plan. For example, recruitment solely through online news outlets limits access to those who meet their news needs offline, such as the elderly, or those who cannot afford an internet connection. Another recruitment bias could be English-only communications that exclude non-English speaking groups. Depending on the goals and research questions guiding the focus groups, further recruitment efforts may be needed to reach excluded groups. These efforts might include reaching out to community centers or posting recruitment notices in coffee shops and other public places. To help reduce recruitment bias, random selection should be used whenever possible. This is discussed in more detail below.

Registration Outreach and Logistics

As recruitment is often the first time that participants are contacted, all communication should appear approachable and professional. This includes recruitment methods that call for public postings or advertisements. These notices should include the general topic of the focus group (such as “focus group on local issues and news”), the registration link and/or phone number, the date/time, and the incentive offered (often a monetary reward from $20–$100). Incentives not only generate interest in participation, but also build a sense of mutual obligation between researchers and participants.

A registration page can be created through Google Forms enabling for easy exportation of collected information into Excel (such as name, community live in, email, phone number, time available, preferred means of contact, and comments). While many may prefer an email informing them of their selection, some individuals may prefer to be contacted by phone rather than email. Elderly participants, for example, often ask to be contacted by phone. Depending on the recruitment method, you may want to add a line on the registration page asking for a preferred method of contact (phone or email). This shows consideration of participants’ needs and helps ensure a successful turnout.

Selecting Your Group

The registration page offers an opportunity to clarify the parameters of final selection by including such language as, “Completing this form does not guarantee you a position in the focus group. Final participants will be randomly selected from all responses. Thank you for your interest.” A random number generator (accessible online) should be used to help select the final group from those who register. Ideally, the final focus group should include 8–10 participants. While retention rates vary, depending on such circumstances as the type of people recruited, the amount of compensation offered, and even the weather, 11–12 participants should be selected and contacted to allow for possible no-shows.

Through initial interaction with potential participants, you may occasionally discover signs that a potential participant may be a disruptive or overpowering group member. If possible, we recommend excluding such individuals from a focus group because disruptive participants are harmful to the dynamic of the entire session. Overall, correspondence with selected participants should remain grateful and positive and provide critical logistical details (such as the room location, parking details, and a contact phone number) not included in previous correspondence.


Scout for a room that will fit a table (or set of tables pushed together) that will comfortably seat all of the participants. You may want to prepare signs directing participants to the selected room. The moderator should greet, welcome, and get to know participants, and the assistant moderator should help distribute and collect materials such as nametags, parking slips for validation, and forms to be signed. Any compensation should be provided at the conclusion of each session.



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