Researching online populations: The use of online focus groups for social research

Kate Stewart, Matthew Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

240 Citations (Scopus)


The survivability of ‘traditional’ methods within computer-mediated settings is dependent upon their capacity to be utilized and adapted to the technology that mediates human interaction online. This article addresses the established focus group method and evaluates its success in online applications, using as examples two quite different research projects. The first, drawn from research into the employment experiences of inflammatory bowel disease sufferers exemplifies the use of asynchronous online focus groups, identifying key practical issues such as online moderation and the analysis of digital data. In contrast the second study, into deviance within online communities, provides an example of how synchronous forms of online focus groups, held within 3D graphical environments, create further challenges for the researcher, highlighting unique ethical considerations of conducting fieldwork in cyberspace. The article draws together the authors’ experiences of applying the method to offer insights into the viability and practicability of online focus groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-416
Number of pages22
JournalQualitative Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2005

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