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Focus Groups

Focus groups are especially useful for understanding perceptions, eliciting new ideas or other information, or following up on a more structured methods of assessment, such as a survey.

Focus groups are small groups of individuals (e.g., 6-12 students) who answer a pre-defined set of questions in a comfortable, non-threatening environment, often led by one or two moderators.  

Tips for Focus Groups

Before the focus group meets:

  1. Decide whether responses will be kept confidential and, if so, plan how you will ensure confidentiality.
  2. Script your questions. Questions should be open-ended since, unlike in a survey, participants have the opportunity to expand on their responses.   
  3. Plan sequence of questions. Format the session so that you begin with the easy and positive questions, working up to more difficult questions, or questions that ask for critical or negative responses.
  4. Select and train the moderator(s). One moderator can run the meeting, a second moderator can take notes.
  5. Select a comfortable environment, perhaps arrange for snacks.

Inviting students to participate:

  1. Select a representative sample of students; this will improve your ability to draw inferences from your findings.
  2. Inform participants of the purpose of the meeting.
  3. Assure participants that their responses will be kept confidential (if that’s the case). Be ready to describe how confidentiality will be maintained (e.g., aggregating responses, no names recorded, etc.)


  1. While creating a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, moderators should keep the meeting on track.
  2. Moderators are there to collect data for participants, not to express their own opinions.
  3. Moderators should be neutral in regard to the topics that will be discussed. For instance, if you are holding the focus group to learn about how students feel about a particular activity or offering, the staff or faculty professors responsible should not be moderating the discussion.

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