Questionnaires, in-depth interviews and focus groups

Adams, Anne and Cox, Anna L. (2008). Questionnaires, in-depth interviews and focus groups. In: Cairns, Paul and Cox, Anna L. eds. Research Methods for Human Computer Interaction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 17–34.



With fast changing technologies and related human interaction issues, there is an increased need for timely evaluation of systems with distributed users in varying contexts (Pace, 2004). This has led to the increased use of questionnaires, in-depth interviews and focus groups in commercial usability and academic research contexts. Questionnaires are usually paper based or delivered online and consist of a set of questions which all participants are asked to complete. Once the questionnaire has been created, it can be delivered to a large number of participants with little effort. However, a large number of participants also means a large amount of data needing to be coded and analysed. Interviews, on the other hand, are usually conducted on a one-to-one basis. They require a large amount of the investigator’s time during the interviews and also for transcribing and coding the data. Focus groups usually consist of one investigator and a number of participants in any one session. Although the views of any one participant cannot be probed to same degree as in an interview, the discussions that are facilitated within the groups often result in useful data in a shorter space of time than that required by one-to-one interviews.
All too often, however, researchers eager to identify usability problems quickly throw together a questionnaire, interview or focus group that, when analysed, produces very little of interest. What is often lacking is an understanding of how the research method design fits with the research questions (Creswell, 2003) and how to appropriately utilise these different approaches for specific HCI needs. The methods described in this chapter can be useful when used alone but are most useful when used together with other methods. Creswell (2003) provides a comprehensive analysis of the different quantitative and qualitative methods and howthey can be mixed and matched for overall better quality research. Depending on what we are investigating, sometimes it is useful to start with a questionnaire and then, for example, follow up some specific points with an experiment, or a series of interviews, in order to fully explore some aspect of the phenomenon under study.
This chapter describes how to choose between and design questionnaires, interviews and focus group studies and using two examples illustrates the advantages of combining a number of approaches when conducting HCI research.

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