Despite the abundance of published material on conducting focus groups, scant specific information exists on how to analyze focus group data in social science research. Thus, the authors provide a new qualitative framework for collecting and analyzing focus group data. First, they identify types of data that can be collected during focus groups. Second, they identify the qualitative data analysis techniques best suited for analyzing these data.

Third, they introduce what they term as a micro-interlocutor analysis, wherein meticulous information about which participant responds to each question, the order in which each participant responds, response characteristics, the nonverbal communication used, and the like is collected, analyzed, and interpreted. They conceptualize how conversation analysis offers great potential for analyzing focus group data. They believe that their framework goes far beyond analyzing only the verbal communication of focus group participants, thereby increasing the rigor of focus group analyses in social science research.

International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2009, 8(3)


Keywords: focus group, focus group analysis, micro-interlocutor analysis, conversation analysis

Authors’ note: Correspondence should be addressed to Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling, Box 2119, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341-2119, or e-mail

Traditionally, focus group research is “a way of collecting qualitative data, which—essentially— involves engaging a small number of people in an informal group discussion (or discussions), ‘focused’ around a particular topic or set of issues” (Wilkinson, 2004, p. 177). Social science researchers in general and qualitative researchers in particular often rely on focus groups to collect data from multiple individuals simultaneously. Focus groups are less threatening to many research participants, and this environment is helpful for participants to discuss perceptions, ideas, opinions, and thoughts (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Researchers have used focus groups for decades (Morgan, 1998), indeed for the past 80 years. In the 1920s, they were conducted to assist researchers in identifying survey questions (Morgan, 1998). In the early 1940s, Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton, who are credited with formalizing the method of focus groups (Madriz, 2000), used focus group methods to conduct a government-sponsored study to examine media effects on attitudes towards the involvement of the United States in World War II (Merton, 1987). These groundbreaking methodologists used focus group data to identify “salient dimensions of complex social stimuli as [a] precursor to further quantitative tests” (Lunt, 1996, p. 81). Moreover, according to Kamberelis and Dimitriadis (2005),

Two dimensions of Lazarsfeld and Merton’s research efforts constitute part of the legacy of using focus groups within qualitative research: (a) capturing people’s responses in real space and time in the context of face-to-face interactions and (b) strategically ‘focusing’ interview prompts based on themes that are generated in these face-to-face interactions and that are considered particularly important to the researchers. (p. 899)

Later, according to Greenbaum (1998), focus group data were collected and analyzed mainly for market researchers to assess consumers’ attitudes and opinions. In the past 20 years, focus group research has been used to collect qualitative data by social science researchers (Madriz, 2000). Furthermore, in the past years, books on the use and benefits of focus groups have emerged (Krueger, 1988; Morgan, 1988).

Social science researchers can derive multiple benefits from using focus groups. One is that focus groups are an economical, fast, and efficient method for obtaining data from multiple participants (Krueger & Casey, 2000), thereby potentially increasing the overall number of participants in a given qualitative study (Krueger, 2000). Another advantage to focus groups is the environment, which is socially oriented (Krueger, 2000). In addition, the sense of belonging to a group can increase the participants’ sense of cohesiveness (Peters, 1993) and help them to feel safe to share information (Vaughn, Schumm, & Sinagub, 1996). Furthermore, the interactions that occur among the participants can yield important data (Morgan, 1988), can create the possibility for more spontaneous responses (Butler, 1996), and can provide a setting where the participants can discuss personal problems and provide possible solutions (Duggleby, 2005).

International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2009, 8(3)