In-Person Versus Online Focus Group Discussions: A Comparative Analysis of Data Quality

Qual Health Res. 2016 May;26(6):741-9. doi: 10.1177/1049732316631510. Epub 2016 Mar 1.


Online focus group discussions (FGDs) are becoming popular as a qualitative research method. Methodological examinations regarding the data quality of online versus more traditional in-person FGDs are limited. We compared two online FGDs with two in-person FGDs conducted with gay and bisexual men using a sensitive topic (the experience of intimate partner violence) to examine differences in data quality between the two methods. The online FGDs resulted in larger word count but were shorter in time than the in-person FGDs. There was high overlap in the themes generated across groups; however, the online discussions yielded one additional theme regarding a sensitive topic. In-person FGDs involved less sharing of in-depth stories, whereas sensitive topics were discussed more candidly in the online FGDs. The results illustrate that although theformatof the data generated from each type of FGD may differ, thecontentof the data generated is remarkably similar.

Keywords: focus groups; online; qualitative methods, qualitative analysis; research, qualitative; violence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Data Accuracy*
  • Focus Groups*
  • Georgia
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / psychology*
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology*
  • Young Adult