The Unique Utility of Focus Groups for Mixed-Methods Research
by Jennifer Cyr, University of Arizona
In this research note, I underscore the unique utility of focus groups for mixed-methods research. I identify three distinctive, inter-related features of focus groups. Focus groups generate emic data, or data produced from the subjects themselves; they are an inherently social data collection method; and they produce data at three levels of analysis: at the individual, the group, and interactive levels. I then argue that these characteristics make focus groups particularly well suited for certain mixed-methods research designs, because they offset weaknesses of other methods. Finally, I briefly explain why a researcher might use focus groups in conjunction with interviews before turning my attention to mixing focus groups with large-N observational studies. On this last point, I suggest that focus groups help with the construction of valid instruments. They also help explain the attitudes and behaviors that large-N work uncovers.