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Focus Groups Park Studies Unit University of Idaho
National Park Service - U.S. Department of the Interior
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How-ToSTEP 2. Formulate Focus Group Questions

Mount Rushmore National MemorialThese are the questions that visitors will be asked; their responses will provide the information that will answer your guiding questions. Prepare a question-probe route for each activity/service to be evaluated. A question-probe route is simply a list of questions that the moderator will ask during the focus groups, with reminders to probe for details if needed.

About the focus group questions

  • Questions should sound conversational, informal, and use words that are familiar to the participants.
  • Questions should be short and clear.
  • Questions should be “open-ended,” meaning no specific answer is implied, and participants can answer in any direction. A question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” is not open-ended, although there may be some instances when a "yes" or "no" answer could be useful.
  • Questions should be phrased in a non-threatening manner so participants never feel as though they might give a “wrong” answer.
  • Each question should ask only one thing. For example, a question that asks whether an exhibit was interesting and informative is asking for two different things.

The question-probe route

This is the order in which the focus group questions are asked, with reminders to “probe” for details for clarification, if needed. Question routes usually move from the general to specific, and from easy to more difficult. Beginning with an ice-breaker question, which may or may not relate directly to your evaluation, is a good way to make participants feel at ease. Asking “Where are you from?” is not open-ended and may not be used in your final analysis, but it is a great question to start with because it’s easy to answer and will help you get to know your group.

Examples of question-probe routes

question-Probe Route
Question route used at Grand Teton National Park to evaluate the visitor center.
  1. Where are you from?
  2. Think about what you’ve seen in the visitor center – what did you like most?
    Probe: What was it about _________ that you liked?
  3. What did you like least?
    Probe: Why didn’t you like it?
  4. Is there anything you feel is missing from the visitor center?
  5. If you approached the information desk, how was the quality of the service you received?
    Probe: What was particularly good about your experience?
    Probe: How could it have been a better experience?
  6. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the visitor center?
question-Probe route
Modified question route for teachers leading a field trip to Fort Spokane, Lake Roosevelt NRA.
  1. What made you decide to plan a field trip to Fort Spokane?
  2. What are some things you would hope your class would take away from a visit to Fort Spokane?
  3. What are your impressions of the exhibits you just saw?
  4. What did you like about them?
    Probe: What was it about the exhibits that you liked?
  5. What did you dislike about them?
    Probe: Why didn’t you like them?
  6. Which aspects of the exhibits drew your students’ attention?
  7. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being least clear and 10 being most clear, how clearly do you think these exhibits describe the history of Fort Spokane?
    Probe: How could the exhibit be more clear?
  8. Which aspects of these exhibits relate to your classroom teaching?
  9. What else would you like the exhibits to include?