Part 8 Appendix Two: Sample Focus Group Questions
This section contains sample questions and prompts from a focus group conducted on local news and information access in New Jersey. As we underscore in the guide, you will want to create your own focus groups questions based on your project’s specific research objectives and goals. However, we hope that offering some sample ideas can help you get started. Each moderator’s guide should include a list of questions carefully tailored and ordered from general to specific.
Below are sample questions categorized as appropriate for opening, generating further discussion, and/or concluding a focus group around the topic of local news. Be sure to practice and test your questions and their order before the focus group. As with any group discussion, the facilitator ought to think about not just the questions that are asked but how they are asked. Your stock questions may feel rigid or terse in their wording, but feel free to adapt them to the tone of the conversation.
Opening Questions: 1-2 broad questions
Early questions are open-ended and limited in scope. For example, to start, you can go around the table to get everyone to contribute. You may want to provide an autobiographical spin here to increase the engagement of participants.
Tell us your first name and…
- What you see as one or two of the most common issues facing [name of town/city] today
- Describe one or two ways that you stay informed about news and information in [name of town/city]
Follow-up/Key Questions: Address 2-4 critical topics
These should flow from the opening question. These questions may be organized around two to four key topics of interest to the research — information needs, news habits, delivery, content preferences, etc. The answers to these sets of questions may also occur naturally during the conversation.
- In follow-up (to 1 above) regarding “most common issues facing [town name]:”
- What are the primary ways that you stay informed about these issues?
- What are sources that you use the most? Think back and share reasons you used those sources.
- What are the ways you access or find these sources?
- Do you feel like you are getting all the information that you need about these issues?
- Any issues, activities, or topics in your community for which you feel like you’re not able to get as much news or information as you’d like?
- In follow-up (to 2 above) regarding “one or two ways you stay informed about news and information:”
- What are sources that you use the most? Think back and share reasons that you used those sources.
- What are the ways you access or find sources of news and information in your community? Think back and share reasons you choose ways to find information.
- Is there a way that you would like to access information that is not currently available to you?
- Regarding the content of this information, are there any topics, issues, or stories that you feel you missing from the ways you currently stay informed about [town name]?
- Can you share one or two of these topics, issues or stories that you would like to see more of?
Your closing is an opportunity for participant reflection and to gain additional insights that might be beyond the scope of your initial questions. In some cases, participants may make observations that you can use to help edit or refine your guide for future focus groups. You can also use this time in creative ways, such as adding a question that came up organically in the discussion.
- Of all the things we discussed today, what do you think has been the most important or relevant to you?
- Ultimately, we are trying to help local news outlets to better serve you. Thinking about the news outlets that serve your community, are there specific ways that you feel like they could be more useful to you?
- Are there any specific recommendations or relevant issues we haven’t raised here that you think we should know about?
As we discussed in the guide, because group dynamics are critical to a successful focus group, the moderator should prioritize remaining open and encouraging. However, you may need to ask follow-up questions to better understand what people are saying. Here are some clarifying questions you can use:
- Can you explain more?
- Can you provide an example?
- Thank you for your comment, I want to make sure I understand…
- I’m sorry, I’m not sure I caught that, can you say that in another way for me?
- I’m sorry, I’m not sure I caught that, can you repeat that for me?
- I think I hear you saying ___, is that correct?
If participants begin to passionately discuss something irrelevant to your questions, affirm their responses and then offer a gentle reminder of the question or goal of the session. Stay flexible and remember that surprise answers often provide important lessons/reminders on what matters to your audience.