The focus group method

Methodology courses and philosophy of science

Course information

ECTS: 2.5 
Number of sessions: 4
Hours per session: 6, 3 or 1
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)

The session dates of this course are yet to be determined (2022-2023). Enrollment will be possible after the dates are determined. 


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.

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

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

Liesbet van Zoonen is professor of popular culture and former dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and Humanities (EGSH) at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Liesbet is also academic director of the Centre for Big Open and Linked Data (BOLD) Cities. She has written about (new) media, citizenship and identity. Her research currently focuses on data and cities.