Harvard Educational Review
  1. Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology

    By Sharon Vaughn, Jeanne Shay, and Jane Sinagub

    Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1996. 174 pp. $39.95; $19.95 (paper).

    Developed by professionals in marketing and advertising, focus group interviews have been traditionally used by marketing experts to gauge customers' responses to products and consumers' perceptions and interests. Interestingly, however, more researchers in education and psychology are now using this interviewing strategy.

    The authors of Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology explain when and why focus group interviews can be useful. They guide the reader through key stages of the focus interview process: preparing for the focus group, selecting participants, conducting the interview, using focus groups with children and adolescents, analyzing the data. The authors also outline some of the potential abuses of the focus group interview. Each chapter opens with an overview of its contents and a list of the key ideas to be covered. Most chapters conclude with activities that give the reader an opportunity to practice what she has read.

    In chapter two, for example, the authors outline the major reasons why educational and psychological researchers are beginning to use focus groups: "variety and versatility for both qualitative and quantitative research methods, compatibility with the qualitative research paradigm, opportunity for direct contact with subjects, advantages of group format, and utility" (p. 12). They suggest that information gathered in focus groups can be used to develop hypotheses, to design survey instruments, or to "fine tune" a research design. Focus groups can be used in concert with quantitative methods as a way of verifying findings of survey research. In my own educational research, I find that including data from focus groups helps to make the research come alive. This data puts a human face on the numbers for policymakers who are unfamiliar with quantitative data analysis.

    Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology is designed for both experienced and novice researchers. This text would be useful in qualitative methods courses. It provides substantial information for effective use of focus group interviewing by education and psychology researchers.

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