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focus group discussion guide

Focus group discussion guide is important when embarking on a focus group research.

As a research consultant, you know focus groups are a powerful qualitative method for understanding your clients’ customers, uncovering unmet needs, exploring new product concepts, testing messaging, and much more. But facilitated these in-depth group discussions effectively is both an art and a science.

If you don’t have a well-designed discussion guide, your focus groups can easily veer off track, miss crucial areas of inquiry, and fail to generate the rich insights you need. On the flip side, a meticulously-crafted guide keeps the sessions tightly focused yet allows for the free-flowing dialogue and spontaneous discoveries that make focus groups so valuable.

In this post, we’ll walk through a comprehensive template and best practices for creating an exemplary focus group discussion guide customized for your clients’ unique research objectives. You’ll get a proven structure to follow, insightful examples, and expert tips on:

• How to write clear, unbiased questions that generate honest feedback
• Best techniques for establishing rapport and making participants feel comfortable
• Simple ways to facilitate productive group interactions and exchanges
• Prompts for getting people to open up and share deeper personal experiences
• Smooth transitions to keep discussions flowing naturally from one topic to the next
• Tactics for gently probing interesting areas that emerge spontaneously
• Methods for adapting your guide mid-session based on participant responses

Let’s dive into everything you need to build amazing focus group guides that generate game-changing consumer insights. If you already have your focus group discussion transcripts, visit here to analyze and extract insights automatically.

Focus Group Discussion Guide Template

Below is a template outlining all key sections to include in a focus group discussion guide. Use this as your starting framework, then customize based on your specific research objectives.

I. Introduction (5 mins)

– Brief intro/background on moderator and purpose/sponsors of the research
– Explanation of the general topic to be discussed
– Underline that participants were hired to share honest thoughts and opinions
– Reassure that there are no wrong answers and establish rapport and openness
– Set expectations for session (length, ability to move around, ability to skip questions, etc.)

Example:

“Thank you all for joining us today. My name is Sarah and I’ll be moderating our discussion. We are doing this research on behalf of

to get feedback from users like you on potential new product and messaging ideas. This is just a freewheeling discussion, with no trick questions or anything like that. I want to hear your completely honest thoughts and opinions based on your personal experiences and perspectives…”

II. Ice Breaker/Warm Up (5-10 mins)

– Simple question that gets participants comfortable speaking in the group
– Should be fun, easy, and not intimidating

Example:

“To get us started, tell me your name, where you’re from, and your favorite midnight snack!”

III. Background and Usage (10-15 mins)

– Open-ended questions about their general background related to the topic
– Inquire about behaviors, attitudes, likes/dislikes, associations, motivations, etc.
– Establishes context and leads into key areas of investigation

Example Questions:

“What are some of your favorite [CATEGORY] products and why?”
“How often do you typically [BEHAVIOR]? Walk me through the last time you did this.”
“How would you describe the role [PRODUCT/SERVICE] plays in your daily life?”
“What factors do you consider when choosing a [PRODUCT/SERVICE]?”

IV. Key Areas of Exploration (45-60 mins)

This is the core part of the discussion where you dive deep into the topics you need to better understand through these focus groups. The number of key areas and specific questions will vary widely based on your objectives, but this section should consume about half of your allotted time.

Questions should follow a logical flow, starting broad and getting increasingly more granular and specific. Use a mix of questions types, like:

• Open-ended exploratory: “What are your overall thoughts and feelings about [PRODUCT/IDEA]? What intrigues or concerns you most?”

• Likes/Dislikes: “What did you like or dislike about [EXAMPLE]? What did or didn’t resonate with you?”

• Immersive scenario walkthrough: “Let’s say you wanted to [TASK]. Talk me through how you would go about doing that from start to finish.”

• Head-to-head comparison: “If you had to choose between [OPTION A] or [OPTION B], which would you prefer and why?”

• “Imagine if” prompts: “Imagine if [NEW PRODUCT/FEATURE] allowed you to [CAPABILITY]. How would that change things for you?”

Also, do “clearing activities” between each area to avoid cross-contamination or bias from previous discussions. That could involve having them jot down solo thoughts, vote, or complete word association exercises.

Transition smoothly between sections using segues like:
“Thanks for that helpful discussion around pricing. Let’s change gears now and talk about [NEXT AREA]…”

V. Projective Exercises and Prompts (~15 mins)

In addition to direct questions, do activities that use projective techniques and creativity to further tap into participants’ deeper motivations, feelings, unmet needs, and ideas. A few examples:

• Have participants draw or use metaphors to represent how they feel about a product/service
• Show example ads, photos, objects and have them build stories around them
• Use psychological prompts like “If [BRAND/PRODUCT] was an animal, what animal would it be and why?”
• Do exercises getting them to project into different scenarios, mindsets, or roles

These activities tend to surface very insightful information that participants may not directly express with words alone.

VI. Areas for Follow Up (5 mins)

– Check if key things were missed or need more probing
– Ask: “What other thoughts/experiences haven’t we covered yet on this topic?”
– Also cover housekeeping questions on logistics, time allotments, etc.

VII. Wrap Up (5 mins)

– Briefly summarize key themes and takeaways
– Allow final thoughts or additional comments
– Thank participants for their time and openness

“That wraps up our discussion for today. Thank you all so much for sharing your honest perspectives…”

Best Practices for Effective Focus Group Discussion Guide

Follow these additional tips when building out your focus group discussion guide:

Ask Permission for Sensitive Topics

If a discussion area touches on deeply personal issues, health matters, or other private topics, get explicit buy-in first.

Example prompt:
“I want to transition now to talking about some personal financial matters related to salaries, debt and cost-of-living issues. I know these can be sensitive topics though, so I want to first get your OK that you’re all comfortable discussing these openly…”

Use Funneling Techniques

Don’t jump right into the most critical issues. Build up to those gradually, starting broader and funnel down to the specifics. This makes participants more comfortable sharing openly.

Build in Strategic Pauses

Don’t fire off question after question in rapid succession. Insert planned pauses to give participants time to gather thoughts and ensure multiple people can voice opinions before advancing.

Stay Flexible and Adaptive

While your guide should have structure, resist going through it rigidly. Skip around, reword, rephrase based on how discussions evolve. Adjust your order and emphasis as interesting areas emerge.

Probe Insightful Comments

If someone shares a particularly compelling perspective, don’t just move on. Probe with follow-ups like:
• “That’s a fascinating point, could you explain that a bit more?”
• “What specific experiences or examples illustrate that viewpoint?”
• “How did the rest of you react to what Sarah just mentioned?”

Watch Body Language and Dynamics

Focus on both the verbal and nonverbal cues, noting any changes in energy, confidence, agreement, etc. There’s always more going on than just what’s being said.

Use Tools for Capturing Details

Have a dedicated note-taker, record sessions for transcription, utilize online tools for compiling and sharing notes, rather than relying solely on memory. Researchers like you use Insight7 to generate and analyze interview transcripts. Click here to book a demo.

Focus groups generate invaluable qualitative consumer and customer insights that would be impossible to obtain through other methods. But those insights are only as useful as the quality of the focus group design and facilitation itself.

Conclusion

By leveraging a finely-tuned focus group discussion guide like the template outlined above, you’ll ensure your sessions stay on track while allowing enough flexibility for the free flow of ideas. You’ll get the depth of feedback required while giving participants the open environment to open up authentically and speak their minds.

An expertly-crafted guide serves as the backbone around which productive focus group discussions can pivot spontaneously as insights emerge. The extra upfront effort in creating a thoughtful, logical sequence of probing questions, engaging activities, and intentional transitions makes all the difference. You’ll more easily maintain control of the sessions, secure more meaningful coverage of the key issues, fully tap into participants’ true feelings and experiences behind them.

Do the diligent upfront work to build superior focus group guides tailored to each research project’s aims, and you’ll position your research practice to collect profound consumer and market truths that drive exceptional value for your clients. If you are done with the focus group discussion, click here to analyze and summarize your focus group data.

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