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Qualitative Research Methods: how to Ask and Whom to Ask? A Comparison between Focus Group and In-depth Interviews[1]

02 febbraio 2019 -
Qualitative Research Methods: how to Ask and Whom to Ask? A Comparison between Focus Group and In-depth Interviews[1]

Contributo selezionato da Filodiritto tra quelli pubblicati nei Proceedings “2nd International e-conference - Enterprises in the Global Economy 2017”

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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “2nd International e-conference - Enterprises in the Global Economy 2017”

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ZAHARIA Razvan[1], ZAHARIA Rodica Milena[2]

[1] The Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Department of Marketing (ROMANIA)

[2] The Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Department of International Business and Economics, CCREI (ROMANIA)




This paper examines the differences in the information obtained through in-depth interviews comparing to those gathered from focus group on a topic related to immigration and refugee’s crisis for Romanians. The main purpose of the study is to illustrate the importance of using multiple methods when a sensitive topic is investigated. Despite the general consideration that in-depth interviews are more accurate for immersing into the beliefs of an individual, this research showed that, for this specific topic, focus group is better in revealing deeper thoughts and opinions. The findings add to the literature, demonstrating the power of group discussion in unveiling the opinions that may be considered avoidable in an individual discussion. Despite the limits of the study, this empirical research may open further avenues for investigation about qualitative research methods and their use for different purposes and for different topics.



For going deeper into individual thoughts, motivations or behavior, for exploring people’s perspectives on some idea or situations, qualitative research is the most suitable method.

Despite its limits, generated mostly by the active role of the researcher in the collecting data process and by the fact that the results cannot be generalized qualitative research explains that in some cases “why” is at least as important as “how many”[1].

Qualitative methods are used to address research questions that require explanation or understanding of social phenomena and their contexts [2, p.5]. The most used methods for collecting information in a qualitative research are in-depth interview and focus group. Focus group and in-depth interview complement each other and many times they are used together.

In-depth interview involves conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives, their thoughts, motivations, expectations or experiences on a particular situation [3]. In-depth interviews combine structure with flexibility [4, p.141] and offer information about what happened and why happened from the perspective of an individual. In-depth interviews are more appropriate when the interviewee may not feel comfortable to talk open in a group or if the aim of the research is to distinguish individual (as opposed to group) opinions about a certain topic [3].

If the strength of an in-depth interview lies on the exploration of the individual opinion, focus group pulls its assets from the interaction between people, from the dynamic and from the synergy the discussions generate [5, p.79], [6]. “The idea behind the focus group method is that group processes can help people to explore and clarify their views in ways that would be less easily accessible in a one to one interview. When group dynamics work well the participants work alongside the researcher, taking the research in new and often unexpected directions” Kitzinger 1995 in [7, p.800].

It is this particular characteristic of the focus group that determined this specific research. For some sensitive topics, during in-depth interviews, the interviewee may feel judged or misunderstood if he or she expresses an opinion that may be considered not to be “politically correct”2 [8, p.159]; therefore, focus groups may prove to be a better method that reflect “the social nature of knowledge” [9, p.155]. As Bogardus described since 1926, focus group is a tool for understanding people’s attitudes and opinions about different social issues, such as race relations [10, p.188]. It is the case of this specific research, when focus group has been proven to be a more appropriate method of collecting information than the in-depth interviews.



The Context of the Research

The aim of the research was to identify the opinion of the respondents and the reasons that motivate these opinions related to the question “Should Romania accept the immigration quotas imposed by the EU in the context of the refugee’s crises”, at the moment of 2016. This was a critical year for the EU and a great interest was cast, at all levels, about the solidarity the countries of the EU should manifest towards this crisis. At that moment (2016), few countries of the EU rejected the proposal coming from France and Germany to open the gates of the EU for the refugees: Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Romania.

The case of Romania was different from the other three countries that opposed to this initiative. Romania is not part of the Schengen area; therefore, there are fewer threats for Romania to have a large number of refugees at its borders. Romania is poorer that the other three countries and it was supposed that the number of the refugees allocated to Romania would be one of the smallest, with lower impact on the population.

Also, Romania is one of the EU countries with the highest emigration rate. Over 3 million of Romanians are considered to live outside Romanian borders, mostly in European countries such as Italy, Spain, France and Germany. It would be expected that the refugees may be a solution to the demographic deficit and the aging population Romania faces.

Surveys conducted in Romania about immigration issues, mostly about what Romanians think about the refugees’ crisis revealed a moderate favorable attitude. In a study conducted by the IRES in 2015 [11], at the question: “As a member state of the EU, do you consider that Romania should receive a certain number of refugees?” 65% of the respondents expressed their total or partial agreement to this statement. However, only 46% agreed (totally or partially) to accept refugees in their town, which raise the question about what people do in reality think about these sensitive topics and how much can you rely on surveys.

Another aim of the research was to have a comparison between in-depth interviews and focus  groups  in  terms  of  the  similarity  and  richness  of  this  information.  The literature mentions the importance of such comparisons [6, p.138] and the fact that different results may be obtained.


The Design of the Research 

The research was conducted from May to August 2016 and consisted in 2 focus groups and thirteen in-depth interviews. The in-depth interviews and focus groups have been conducted with the same participants. The same method was used in studies directed by Wight (1994) and Kitzinger (1994) [6].

The thirteen interviewees were homogenous from the point of view of age (50 to 57 years old), education (tertiary level) and balanced between men and women (seven women and six men). The focus groups also were gender balanced. One group was composed of three men and three women and the second one consists of four women and three men.

The researchers knew all the interviewees and the relationship between the participants and the researchers was a cordial and trustful one. Also, the interviewees knew each other.

Because of this amiable atmosphere, the role of the researchers was just to keep the discussion on the track, which helped the participants to express their opinion and to generate very rich discussions. This is in line with the observation made by McLafferty [10, p.188], who pointed out that focus groups formed of strangers require more moderator intervention.

The research started with in-depth interviews around the questions: “Should Romania accept immigrants, in general, and refugees, in particular? What is your opinion about this? Why do you consider that?”

The topic investigated was very well-known to all the participants. Media made extensive reports during 2015 and 2016 on this topic and the general public was aware about this situation.

The first in-depth interviews have performed during May 2016 with 6 persons (3 women and 3 men). The same 6 persons formed the first focus group which was performed in June 2016.

The next discussion was with the rest of the interviewees, 7 persons (4 women and 3 men), during June and July, 2016, on the same question. These 7 persons formed the second focus group which was conducted after the interviews, in August 2016.

The interviews took from 10 to 25 minutes and the focus groups lasted for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Both researchers participated as moderators in focus groups and in- depth interviews.

To keep the trust, researchers took notes from the discussions. The anonymity of the persons involved in the research was kept. Only the gender and the age are real. The names are fictive.

This empirical research has obvious limitations. There are only two focus group and only 13 in-depth interviews and because of the small number of the participants the results may be interpret as being accidental. However, the outcomes are in line with the findings from other similar studies, which add value to the results and other avenues of investigations are opened by this research.


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