Methodological Study Of Sample Measurement Reporting In Focus Group Studies

Reporting Of Sample Measurements In Group Studies


Background

Transparency and accountability are key elements in any research report, not least in qualitative studies. Thorough reporting of methods allows readers to assess the quality and relevance of research findings. In addition, for qualitative research methodology to advance, information about how these methods are used and how they work best is needed. 

A focus group or focus interview is commonly defined as a method of collecting research data through moderated group discussion based on the participants’ perceptions and experience of a topic decided by the researcher. Focus groups differ from group interviews in that the emphasis is on the interaction between the participants rather than between the moderator or researcher and the participants. 

In recent years, focus groups have become increasingly popular within health science research; in a Medline search in 1999, Twohig and Putnam found no focus group studies before 1985 but more than 1000 studies between 1985 and 1999. 

Focus groups are well suited to explore people’s subjective experiences and attitudes, and health researchers are repeatedly encouraged to use focus groups to evaluate health services, elicit the views of key stakeholders or decision makers, or explore the views of marginalized groups that typically would not respond to a postal survey or would be intimidated by a conventional interview situation [2,5,7,8]. Focus group interviews are also recommended as a pre-or post-study to prepare or interpret data from surveys or trial studies.

Methods

We searched PubMed for studies that had used focus groups and that had been published in open access journals during 2008, and extracted data on the number of focus groups and on any explanation authors gave for this number. We also did a qualitative assessment of the papers with regard to how a number of groups were explained and discussed. 

Results

We identified 220 papers published in 117 journals. In these papers insufficient reporting of sample sizes was common. The number of focus groups conducted varied greatly (mean 8.4, median 5, range 1 to 96). 

Thirty-seven (17%) studies attempted to explain the number of groups. Six studies referred to rules of thumb in the literature, three stated that they were unable to organize more groups for practical reasons, while 28 studies stated that they had reached a point of saturation. 

Among those stating that they had reached a point of saturation, several appeared not to have followed principles from grounded theory where data collection and analysis is an iterative process until saturation is reached. Studies with high numbers of focus groups did not offer explanations for the number of groups. Too much data as a study weakness was not an issue discussed in any of the reviewed papers. 

Conclusions

Based on these findings we suggest that journals adopt more stringent requirements for focus group method reporting. The often poor and inconsistent reporting seen in these studies may also reflect the lack of clear, evidence-based guidance about deciding on sample size. More empirical research is needed to develop a focus group methodology.

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