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Checklist for Focus Group Notetakers

Ann K. Emery
Feb 19th, 2013 / Data Visualization /
Collage of a computer monitor, laptop, calendar, people and charts..

Are you taking notes during a focus group? If so, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind – simultaneously listening and typing, including both verbal and nonverbal observations… It’s a lot to remember!

During my first evaluation job, I took notes during a lot of focus groups. Now, a few years later, I’m usually the one facilitating the focus group, which means I need to train novices to take notes during my focus groups.

Here’s the checklist I review with notetakers before the focus group (as a training guide) and after the focus group (as an evaluation of the quality of their notes).

Here’s my checklist for focus group notetakers. Did the focus group notetaker:

  • Include plenty of direct quotes into the notes?
  • Type comments in the appropriate section in the document? (For example, if the discussion didn’t follow the exact order of the questions, did the notetaker copy and paste the comments into the appropriate sections afterwards?)
  • Capture nonverbal behaviors (i.e. laughing, rolling eyes, leaving the room, nodding heads)?
  • Make notes when a few participants agreed or disagreed with each other? (For example: “One person really liked the guest speaker about xyz topic. About half the people nodded in agreement, but one person shook their head, rolled their eyes, and disagreed.”)
  • Act invisible before, during, and after the group (when not behind a two-way mirror)?
  • Give an objective account of what was said, rather than including assumptions or judgments about what participants meant to say?
  • Include enough details that someone who wasn’t present at the group could read your notes and understand what happened? (The notes should be a stand-alone document, rather than something you’d need to explain to people later to fill in the gaps in the notes.)

Do you have additional tips to add to the checklist? Which tips have been most valuable to you when taking notes during a focus group?

More about Ann K. Emery
Ann K. Emery is a sought-after speaker who is determined to get your data out of spreadsheets and into stakeholders’ hands. Each year, she leads more than 100 workshops, webinars, and keynotes for thousands of people around the globe. Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making technical information easier to understand for non-technical audiences.

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