How to write a focus group discussion guide

When you think about how to write a focus group discussion guide you need to consider various factors. Most important among these are the aims and objectives of your research. The more thoroughly you think about these the faster and easier the discussion guide design process will be.

Begin by writing out in as much detail as possible all the reasons why you are doing the research. Consider what specific questions you want answers to, and what decisions you will use the research results to help inform.

For some or all of these questions you may have hypotheses you want to test. What we mean by this is that if the research is designed to find the reasons why something is happening (such as why sales of your goods or services have fallen in the last 3 months), then the hypotheses you want to test would be all the reasons that you and your colleagues think could be to blame. The aim of the research is to source evidence about which, if any, of these reasons is indeed to blame, or whether there are any other reasons.

If you do not go through this preparatory stage you risk omitting something important. Although it seems like extra work, it really is not, and the end result will be better.

You really need to try to avoid loading your discussion guide with any question that relates to the subject.

Once you have really thought through the aims of your research, and specific hypotheses to test then you can design the discussion guide.

Warm up section

The first few minutes of your group should be devoted to warming up the participants, making them relaxed in the group setting, and also getting them to start thinking about the subject generally. So usually your first few questions would be very broad, and designed more to get participants talking than necessarily finding out anything useful.

Main section

This is when you ask most of your questions. Try to make them so they are not “leading”. In other words, if you are exploring reasons for a decline in sales of your products then ask your questions indirectly. For example, you might ask people what they feel about the price of your products, rather than specifically asking if they think they are too high, too low or about right. You might have to ask these specific questions if you don’t get the feedback you wanted by asking about price generally. But try not to ask initially.

In fact, try not to even ask about price at all initially. Really you want to see if participants mention it themselves, without being prompted.

Closing section

You may want to spend the last few minutes of your focus group rounding up your understanding of your participants’ answers.