Part 2 Developing Your Questions
Your first step in planning a focus group is to design a focus group guide that includes the moderator’s introduction and the research questions. Development of the guide begins with determining your project’s research goals and desired outcomes.
Structured vs. Unstructured
Planning the structure or design of the guide depends on the kind of information that you want to learn from participants. The design may range between more or less structured depending on whether the research seeks answers to specific research questions or insights into the group’s interests or perspective on a topic. A more structured guide includes more questions, while an unstructured guide may only use three or four broad questions or topics for discussion.[i] Almost all focus groups begin with a broad (often autobiographical) question to allow each individual to feel comfortable contributing to the topic discussed.
Broadly speaking, questions should be open-ended and easy to follow. Whenever possible, the order of questions should flow from general to specific and try to introduce positive inquiries before negative ones. The questionnaire must take into consideration the time necessary to answer each question sufficiently. For a moderately structured group, the number of questions can range from 8–12, depending on the time allotted and the number of participants. The “funnel” questionnaire design, for example, begins with 1–2 broad questions at the top, covers 3–4 topics in more detail in the middle, and ends with specific questions.[ii]
Test Your Guide
A pilot test of the guide often provides suggestions for improving its content and wording. After initial development of the questionnaire, you may choose to share the guide with research partners (journalists, foundations, or academics) and others. Their reviews will ensure that the guide reflects the concerns and questions of all research partners and potential participants. Early focus group sessions may also provide an opportunity to make minor changes in the wording or order of questions to improve their flow or clarity. Changes to the questions themselves should only be considered when a question is clearly not working.
[i] David L. Morgan, “Planning Focus Groups, Vol. 2,” The Focus Group Kit, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 1998, Print.