The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Focus Groups English Language Essay

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This essay will analyse the drawbacks and benefits of focus groups as a research method. Firstly a focus group is an interview with several people on a certain topic. Focus groups are no different from other qualitative methods as there are times when they should be used and others when they should be avoided. All the benefits and drawbacks of focus groups come from its defining features; firstly the reliance on the researcher setting the focus and secondly the group's interactions. This essay will begin by highlighting the benefit of how interviewees in focus groups can question and challenge each other's views. It will then argue that a drawback in focus groups is how group effects can occur and manipulate people's responses. It will then argue that a benefit of focus group research is the ability to analyse styles of talk and interaction. It then argues that the researcher's ability to set the focus is cited as a drawback. It then identifies the relatively small groups as being a drawback as it reduces the ability to generalise.

Focus groups manage to capitalise on research participant communication to generate data. Research participants are able to challenge each other and as a result clarify their own views.

Instead of the researcher asking each person to respond to a question in turn, people are encouraged to talk to one another, ask questions... and comment on each other's experiences and points of view. (Kitzinger, 2006:21)

This ability to challenge and argue with one another means that the researcher is more likely to end up with a more realistic idea of what people actually think. This is due to the research participants being forced to rethink their views and in some circumstances revise these views. However, this ability to argue and challenge people's views can be a drawback as it could lead to group effects. This is when 'persons adjust their own behaviour in response to their impressions of other group members, and in relation to their own needs and history.' (Carey and Smith, 2010:124). If this is the case the ecological validity of focus groups can be questioned as it one could argue that the research is not well founded therefore it cannot be generalised accurately to the real world. It is also believed that for some types of participants discussing certain topics in the presence of a group tends to affect their views through what they say and how they say it. This can be due to certain individuals in the group setting taking lead and being very vocal and intimidating or simply because they act differently when they are around people that they do not know.

A benefit of focus groups is the chance it gives researchers to study a group's styles of talk and interaction. Focus groups allow researchers to 'tap into the many different forms of communication' that people use day to day; this is really important because 'people's knowledge and attitudes are not entirely encapsulated in reasoned responses to direct questions'. (2006:22). Studying peoples styles of speaking and interaction is a benefit as it can show more about what people no or experience which may not otherwise be observed. This allows focus groups to study deeper into the way people act and it can highlight (sub) cultural values or group norms.

The researcher's ability to set the focus is cited as a drawback. 'The fact that the researcher creates and directs the groups makes them distinctly less naturalistic than participant observation so there is always some residual uncertainty about the accuracy of what the participants say' (Morgan, 1997:14). This is a major drawback to focus groups as you are ultimately studying the participants therefore you need as little external interference as possible and if the researcher is interfering, the results become less naturalistic and valid. The researcher may simply attempt to maintain the interviews focus; however, this can be detrimental as this will influence the group's interactions. Therefore, any researcher will find it extremely hard to have minimal influence on the group and you will have to take this into account.

Another drawback of focus groups as a research method is that these groups tend to be relatively small as it is logistically hard to manage large groups, therefore, it is very difficult to generalise the sample. 'group members may not be representative of a larger population, because [of] the small numbers.' (Stewart, 2007:39). Even though focus groups do have limitations which one must take into consideration, these limitations are not synonymous to focus group research.

This essay began by highlighting the benefit of how interviewees in focus groups can question and challenge each other's views. It then argued that a drawback in focus groups is how group effects can occur and manipulate people's responses. It then argues that a benefit of focus group research is the ability to analyse styles of talk and interaction. Then it argues that the researcher's ability to set the focus is cited as a drawback. It then identifies the relatively small groups as being a drawback as it reduces the ability to generalise.


Kitzinger, Jenny (2006), "Focus Groups", in Pope, Catherine and Mays, Nicholas, Qualitative Research in Health Care, Blackwell Publishing: Oxford

Carey, Martha and W Smith, Mickey (2010), 'Capturing the Group Effect in Focus Groups: A Special Concern in Analysis', Sage Publications, Volume 4 pp. 123-127

Morgan, David L. (1997), 'Focus Groups as Qualitative Research', Sage Publications Ltd: California

Stewart, David W. And Shamdasani, Prem N. And Rook, Denis W. (2007), Focus Groups; Theory and Practice, Sage Publications: California

A discourse analysis of Barack Obama's address to Iran

Obama's address to Iran during the Nowruz festival in 2009 was seen as an olive branch extended by the Obama administration that were offering a 'new beginning'. This address offers a unique political and cultural construction of reality from Obama's point of view.

Obama's videotaped address to Iran had constructed a particular version of 'reality' for the viewer. This address made the relations between the two states seem a lot better than they actually were at the time. Even though Obama acknowledged that for nearly 'three decades' relations between the two nations were 'strained'. Obama purposely did not use strong words in his address in order to try and woe the Iranians as the relations between Iran and the US were at best hostile. The address tends to construct a fairly optimistic version of reality for the intended viewer as Obama is addressing the Iranians directly therefore he has to take this tone as he is trying to woe them to come to the negotiating table. He stresses that the two nations have 'serious differences that have grown over time' which is true and he offers his potential solution to this laying with 'diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues'.

Both politically and culturally the US and Iran extremely different and Obama stresses this point however, he manages to turn this into an advantages by saying that 'Here in the United States our own communities have been enhanced by the contribution of Iranian Americans'. In order to connect with the ordinary Iranian and the leaders of Iran Obama was trying to reach out to them through showing understanding and consideration for the Iranian culture. The cultural context is pivotal to the address as Obama has purposefully sent this olive branch to Iran in their festivities for the arrival of spring. This shows that Obama is making an effort and it portrays him as being more sincere and genuine about this 'new beginning'. Obama also refers to a famous Iranian poet named Saadi, and by quoting him he again seems more sincere and more genuine about this wish to put away the past difference and under his new administration to work together towards better ties and relations.

The political context at the time of the address was one of uncertainty as Obama's administration was new and the two nations had not yet officially set their policies towards each other as Obama was elected on a mandate of talking to the Iranians to try and resolve their differences. At that time this was a very important gesture as it was a big change from the previous Bush administration's policy of non communication with Iran and this had the potential to bring the Iranians to the table in search for real long lasting peace. So this 'new beginning' not only meant a new beginning in relations but also a new political stance by the US spearheaded by the new leader. The address has a lot of relevance to the broader political context as Obama is using that and the potential for change in the way Iran is viewed in the international community to change from a 'rogue nation' to a great nation and civilization.


Dissertation Research Proposal

The Core question that I will be addressing in my dissertation is,

'A critical analysis of the Western methods of giving aid to Africa: Is there a more effective alternative'.

This question is very important and relevant to today's contemporary society as there are still high levels of poverty in Africa whilst billions of dollars are being squandered in aid to try and combat this poverty. Western altruism or not, aid to Africa is right and logical however, today the Western model of giving aid is not working as money is being squandered on useless projects and lost in corruption. The question will critically analyse the western model of giving aid in order to try and understand where it has gone wrong. It will then analyse different models such as that of the Chinese method of aid in exchange for resources and then decide whether there exists today or could ever exists a better method of giving aid. It will then analyse whether aid is the answer for Africa at all or if a better system would be to simply cut the amount of aid to Africa until it reaches 0.

Sentiment on foreign aid today varies from the Jeffrey Sachs who argue that foreign aid should be increased in order to make it more successful and effectively reduce poverty, then we have the William Easterly's who argue that aid is no cure of poverty but instead one of the causes of poverty. William Easterly's 'CIAO' model will then be analysed as a potential recommendation for repairing the current aid system. Easterly criticises 'grandiose' plans such as the MDG's as in this model all aid agencies and recipients are collectively responsible meaning that no one is directly responsible for the implementation of the aid or no one who can be blamed if and when it goes wrong. Easterly's argues that

'The reason the aid plans go so wrong is because they lack the "C," which is customer feedback; they lack the "I," which is incentives; they lack the "A," which is accountability; and as a result, they lack the "O," which is the good outcome that would come from any intelligent effort to end world poverty.' (Easterly, 2006: 2)

Dambisa Moyo's 'Dead Aid' has made major inroads into the foreign aid debate. I will analyse her attack on the current western method of given aid. Her argument for using aid to encourage non-aid methods of finance to help reduce aid over time until we have an 'aid-free world' (Moyo, 2009: 76). Dead Aid also praises the Chinese method of promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) coupled aid as being a more effective method than the West's political conditionality's and structural adjustments. Moyo's solution is fairly simple in that it argues aid is the problem in itself and the alternative she offers is simply but effective in that she is arguing there is too much aid flowing into Africa and this is detrimental to African nations themselves. Paul Colliers argument that aid is subject to diminishing returns reinforces Moyo's argument that this western flooding of aid into Africa is detrimental. Collier highlights

'the Centre for Global Development, a Washington think tank, [who] came up with an estimate of diminishing returns implying that when aid reaches about 16 percent of GDP it more or less ceases to be effective. Africa wasn't far off that level even before Gleneagles... we have broadly reached the limits to aid absorption' (2008: 100).

Therefore, essentially you get less with every £1 million of aid you give to a country.

My dissertation will hopefully take a fresh approach to the debate on foreign aid to Africa. Like Moyo and Easterly my dissertation will criticise the western method of giving aid to Africa today as being too short sighted and acting like an end in itself where it should instead be a means to an end. It will then hopefully present what the best method of giving foreign aid to Africa is.

The research design on my dissertation will be based mostly on qualitative methods however; it will also have some quantitative analysis. My dissertation will look at current case studies of different models of providing aid, countries like Ethiopia which are heavily dependent on western aid will be contrasted with places such as Somaliland who receive minimal aid and countries like Tanzania who receive mainly a different method of aid provided by the Chinese. I will look at previous case studies conducted on these countries as it would not be feasible to visit them myself. I will conduct interviews with officials relevant to this debate such as ambassadors to the countries that I wish to use as a case study. I will not use one particular theoretical perspective throughout but instead I shall use theories such as post-colonialism liberalism to analyse the reasons behind the west's reasons for giving aid, then I will use these findings to analyse the effectiveness of the current methods of giving aid.

I wish my dissertation will provide a unique contribution to the debate surrounding the best method of administering aid to Africa. With Africa receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in aid in the last few decades this debate is fundamental and economically essential both for the aid receiving countries but also for donor nations themselves.