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Analyzing Data from Focus Groups

You can analyze focus group data with the same techniques you would use on any corpus of text: field notes, life histories, open-ended interviews, and so on. As with all large chunks of text, you have two choices for very different kinds of analysis. You can do formal content analysis, or you can do qualitative analysis. See chapters 18 and 19 for more about this.

As with in-depth interviews, it’s best to record (or videotape) focus groups. This is a bit tricky, though, because any audio of a focus group, whether digital or tape, is hard to understand and transcribe if two or more people talk at once. A good moderator keeps people talking one at a time. Don’t hide the recorder or the microphones. Someone is sure to ask if they’re being recorded, and when you tell them, ‘‘Yes’’—which you must do—they’re sure to wonder why they had to ask.

If you are just trying to confirm some ideas or to get a general notion of how people feel about a topic, you can simply take notes from the audio and work with your notes. Most focus groups, however, are transcribed. The real power of focus groups is that they produce ethnographically rich data. Only transcription captures a significant part of that richness. But be prepared to work with a lot of information. Any single hour-and-a-half focus group can easily produce 50 pages or more of text.

Many focus groups have two staff members: a moderator and a person who does nothing but jot down the name of each person who speaks and the first few words they say. This makes it easier for a transcriber to identify the voices. If you can’t afford this, or if you feel that people would be uncomfortable with someone taking down their names, you can call on people by name, or mention their name when you respond to them. Things can get rolling in a focus group (that’s what you want), and you’ll have a tough time transcribing the audio if you don’t know who’s talking (Further Reading: focus groups).

 
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