Quality & Quantity

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 1125-1136

First online:

The focus groups in social research: advantages and disadvantages

  • Ivana AcocellaAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Sciences, Cultural and Training Processes, University of Florence Email author 

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The focus group (FG) technique has been recently rediscovered by social scientists. It has become the subject of important methodological discussions and it is now considered a very innovative research method. However, such a widespread use of FG seems to have become a fashionable research technique. The impression is that FG is often adopted without any prior consideration of whether it really is the most suitable research technique for achieving the cognitive goals of the research. At the same time, it seems that the FG is often adopted only because it is considered an easy-to-organise and inexpensive technique. The goal of this paper is to evaluate the nature of the FG, analyse its advantages and disadvantages and identify the cognitive problems that it helps to face. In order to discuss these two points, I will focus on the two main characteristics that differentiate the FG from other techniques of information gathering in social research. Firstly, in FGs the informative source is a group. Secondly, the heuristic value of this technique lies in the kind of interaction that emerges during the debate. Several researchers have indicated these two aspects as the main characteristics of FG; but only few authors have translated these comments into serious epistemological and methodological knowledge, thus allowing the FG to give its best results.


Focus group Qualitative technique of information gathering Moderator Focus group discussion Interaction