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Are Focus Groups Suitable for ‘Sensitive’ Topics?

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Are Focus Groups Suitable for ‘Sensitive’ Topics?

How do we decide whether focus groups are appropriate for particular research topics? What happens if sensitive topics are raised? How can researchers ensure the safety of group research participants? And are some topics simply too sensitive to explore in groups?

Sensitive research has traditionally relied on the use of one-to-one interviews (as in the Women Risk and AIDS Project; see, for example, Holland et al., 1994) or questionnaires (Stanley, 1995), and most of the methodological literature has been concerned with ensuring participants’ safety in these settings (for example Roberts, 1981). It is only relatively recently that some attention has been paid to participants’ safety in focus groups (see, for example, Zeller, 1993).

As focus group methods have grown in ...

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