In-Person versus Online Focus Group Discussions: A Comparative Analysis of Data Quality

Cory Woodyatt, Emory University
Ayesha McAdams-Mahmoud, Emory University

Researchers have begun conducting online Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) as a qualitative research tool; however, there is little methodological literature examining the data quality of online versus in-person FGDs. Two online FGDs were compared to two randomly selected in-person FGDs. FGDs were transcribed, coded thematically, and analyzed comparatively in three stages. In-person FGDs were shorter than online FGDs (mean: 120 v. 93 minutes), but resulted in larger word counts (mean 15,907 v. 4,981). However, FGD content was similar: of 27 thematic codes identified, 25 appeared in both, 1 in in-person only, and 1 in online only. As well, in-person FGDs led to less sharing of in-depth stories among participants, and sensitive topics emerged more candidly in the online FGDs, likely as a result of increased anonymity. Online FGDs, particularly for sensitive subjects, may be an effective method to obtain information should be considered for parallel use with in-person FGDs.

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Presented in Session 120: New Data Collection Techniques