The focus group method

Methodology courses and philosophy of science

Course information

ECTS: 2.5 
Number of sessions: 4
Hours per session: 6 or 3
Course fee: 

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • € 525,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information


Telephone: +31 (0)10 4082607 (Graduate School)

In the academic year 2020-2021 this course will take place online.

Session 1
January 11 (Monday) 2021

Session 2
January 14 (Thursday) 2021


Session 3
January 18 (Monday) 2021





The focus group is a qualitative interview-based method that is used to collect in-depth data for small sample studies (e.g. 50 people). The focus group can be easily qualified as one of the most important, traditional and broadly used qualitative research methods in the social sciences and humanities.

Aims and working method

This course offers an introduction to the focus group method. It is designed for PhD candidates who are not experienced with focus groups, and are considering / planning to use the focus group method for their research.

We will discuss all the major parts of the process the researcher goes through when applying the focus group method. While much attention will be paid to the application of the method, we will also discuss how to analyse and write up the results.

In addition, the course discusses the deeper theoretical rationale and embedding of the focus group method, and challenges the participants to think about how they could apply focus groups for their own research and to develop a perspective of their own on the pros and cons of this method.

Next to lectures about the above mentioned topics, the course will consist of exercises, discussions and reflections with the class plenary or in smaller groups.

Keep in mind that this is not an Atlas.ti course. However, the course will introduce this program’s basic functionalities and offers a first training in using the program for the analysis of focus group data. To further develop your Atlas.ti skills you can attend the course Qualitative coding with Atlas.ti and/or consult the many online Atlas.ti tutorials. 

Learning objectives

After this course you will:
- understand for which research goals the focus group method can be applied.
- be able to design a focus group study for your own research.
- know how to apply the focus group method.
- know how the data of a focus group can be analyzed systematically.
- know how to report the results of a focus group study in a scientifically sound manner.
- be able to reflect on the pros and cons of the focus group method.

Session descriptions

  • Session 1: Background and application of the focus group method

  • Research purposes for which the focus group method can be applied
  • How to design a focus group study
  • Do’s and don’ts for conducting focus groups
  • Session 2: Moderating focus groups and analyzing the results

  • Exercises in the moderation of focus groups
  • Analysing focus group data with Atlas.ti.
    • The instructor will provide data to practice with, but you may also practice with your own data.
    • Please bring a fully charged laptop with you, with on it installed the newest version of Atlas.ti 8.
    • Preferably bring the Windows version of Atlas.ti with you, because we will discuss and practice that version. The Windows version is quite different from the Mac version. If you are prepared to find out by yourself how the Mac version works, then you may also bring the Mac version with you.
    • Erasmus University has a license for Atlas.ti. Installation instruction:
    • Please do this well in advance and notify the course instructor if there are any problems.
  • Session 3: The write-up, own design, and evaluation

  • How to report the results of a study based on focus groups
  • Designing a focus group study for your own research
  • Pros and cons of focus groups
  • Session 4: Review of your own work

    Bilateral discussion of the draft of your own focus group study. This can be a full draft or a concise version (e.g. 2500 words).

About the instructor

Dr. Fadi Hirzalla is the Graduate School’s senior lecturer and methodology consultant. He specializes in quantitative and qualitative methodology, next to his substantive interests in citizenship and new media, with a particular focus on intercultural relations and young people. Prior to joining the Graduate School, he worked at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University.