Focus groups are an important part of understanding how to make your product appeal to potential customers and how to communicate its appeal to them. A focus group is a small group of people, typically not more than 12, selected to represent your target demographic. While sessions with these groups are often conducted in a friendly, informal way, the best results come from having your questions planned ahead of time. Knowing what you’re going to ask your focus group, and how you’re going to ask them, is a necessary part of getting accurate, useful information from the members of your focus group. The good news is, developing useful questions is a skill that can be learned.

Types of Focus Group Questions

While there are many best practices for creating focus group questions, most questions can be broken down into three broad categories.

Engagement Questions

The purpose of engagement questions is to establish the topic of discussion with your participants and make them comfortable with the focus group setting and with each other. You’ll typically only ask a few engagement questions, at the beginning of the focus group session.

  • “What’s your favorite brand of cereal?”
  • “What do you look for in an internet service provider?”
  • “What kinds of toys do you like to buy your child?”

Exploration Questions

Once you’ve established the subject and tone of the focus group, it’s time to move on to exploration questions. Use these questions to get the information you’re trying to acquire from the focus group and to ensure that the discussion is useful. Exploration questions will make up the bulk of your focus group questions.

  • “What’s more important in a breakfast cereal: taste or health?”
  • “How often do you download large files at home?”
  • “What do you think a fair price is for a toy of this kind?”

Exit Questions

Asked last, the purpose of your exit question is to ensure you haven’t missed anything, or that there isn’t anything else your focus group members would like to tell you about the subject.

  • “Is there anything else you’d like to say about why you buy the cereals you buy?”
  • “Is there anything else we should know about how you choose an internet service provider?”
  • “Would you like to tell us anything else about the toys you buy?

6 Steps to Create Effective Focus Group Questions

Getting the information you need from your focus group members is important, but so is respecting their time. The best sets of focus group questions are limited in scope and quantity. Following an established procedure for creating questions can be useful. These steps can help you develop a short, effective selection of focus group questions.

1. Be Clear About Project Goals

Talk to the project stakeholders and learn what information is critical to the project’s success. Keep those goals in mind while you’re creating focus group questions.

2. Know What Information Is Already Available

Most focus group moderators ask no more than eight to 12 questions. Know what information you can get from other methods to ensure you’re not asking unnecessary questions.

3. Brainstorm Preliminary Questions

Don’t worry about creating too many questions at this point. Work with a group to come up with a selection of questions that covers all three categories: engagement, exploration and exit.

4. Solicit Feedback

Once you have your preliminary set of questions, share it with project stakeholders so they can tell you if you’re missing anything or if anything needs to be adjusted or altered.

5. Refine Your List of Questions

Your final list of questions should be around eight to 12 total, so at this point, it’s necessary to cut less important questions, combine similar questions and refine the questions you wish to keep.

6. Run a Test

Before you run your live focus group, gather together a similar number of people and run a test focus group, with the intent of finding any problems with the questions. Look for unclear phrasing or questions that lead to too much tangential discussion.

Tips for Developing Focus Group Questions

When you’re writing your questions, there are some tips and guidelines you can use to ensure you’re creating good focus group questions.

Avoid Vague Wording

Good focus group questions are clear, easy to understand and result in straightforward answers.

Use Open-Ended Language

You want the members of your focus group to talk, so it’s important to avoid asking yes or no questions that can be answered without elaboration. Asking for examples and using phrases like “How did you feel?” or “What problems did you see?” can be useful ways to encourage focus group participants to share their thoughts honestly.

Don’t Embarrass Them

You want honest answers from your focus group participants, so avoid asking questions that might be embarrassing to answer or that might feel threatening.

Start General, Get Specific

Order your questions from general to more specific. This allows participants time to get comfortable with the topic before they start sharing very specific thoughts and information.

Additional source: “How to Conduct a Focus Group,” Duke University Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

A solid knowledge of business principles can help you create effective focus group questions and follow through on the information you get from them. With an online business management degree from Jefferson, you can learn those principles in a dynamic, engaging environment on a schedule that fits your life.