Focus groups as a research method: a critique of some aspects of their use in nursing research

J Adv Nurs. 2001 Mar;33(6):798-805. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01720.x.


Objective: To evaluate and critique reports in the nursing literature in the period 1990-1999 of the use of focus groups as a research method.

Methods: The articles were identified by a computerized search of the CINAHL database and subjected to critical review.

Findings: The result of the search was that very few articles were found that reported on a specific piece of research using the method. Methodological discussions were more common and these were sometimes at a somewhat superficial level without analysis or critique. The largest category of articles was concerned with service development projects. The research-based articles were found to be relatively unsophisticated in their use of the method, in particular in relation to data analysis and social interaction within focus groups. Terms such as 'content analysis' and 'grounded theory' were used in nonrigorous ways and incompatibility between the underlying research approach and implementation of the method was identified in the cases of phenomenology and grounded theory. Whilst selection of the focus group method was often justified in terms of the benefits that participant interaction could yield, this interaction was rarely reported or discussed in the articles. One author proposed a scheme for analysing this type of interaction, and this is recommended to future researchers as a possible framework for interaction analysis.

Conclusions: The article concludes by calling for more in-depth consideration at the research planning stages of the underlying assumptions of methodological approaches that may be used to underpin focus group research and methods to be used to analyse and report the data generated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Focus Groups / methods*
  • Focus Groups / standards*
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Nursing Methodology Research / methods*
  • Nursing Methodology Research / standards*
  • Planning Techniques
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Research Personnel / psychology