Note-taking Tips for Research Involving Focus Groups

Focus Group TranscriptionIn a research project that involves focus groups (one or two researchers and several participants discuss a topic as a group), it is important to take detailed notes on what is being observed and what the participants say even if you are recording the entire session. These notes capture nonverbal information (body language and expression) and serve as a backup when recording fails. They are critical for focus group transcription to clarify and add contextual details to what the participants said during the focus group session. Here are some effective tips for note-taking during research, which will make your research analysis less laborious and facilitate transcription.

Note-takers typically have their own style that will evolve and become more organized and efficient over a period of time. Even so, the following tips will help you to generate information-rich and precise notes more quickly.

  • Use a Form – Instead of keeping cluttered notes, you can use a form to write your notes. If you are not provided with a note-taking form, create one to organize your notes and make it easier to expand your notes. You can start each entry with date, time, place and type of data collection while leaving space to expand the notes, or expand them on a separate page.
  • Prepare Notes Strategically – Making brief notes is easier than writing down exact quotes. Instead of documenting each and every detail, use keywords and phrases that will trigger your memory while expanding notes. Capture the content of all necessary verbal contributions.
  • Add Participant Identifiers – Note the identifier of each participant as they speak. This will be a great help for transcription later as it is easy to identify the quotes or main ideas of what a particular speaker said and add relevant details to the transcripts. You can add a column in your form to identify the speaker.
  • Use Shorthand – Use shorthand system to take field notes and expand them later. The use of abbreviations and acronyms will help you to quickly note what is happening and being said. This will save a considerable amount of time.
  • Document Both Questions and Responses – You should record both questions and responses in your notes. Mention the question number if the questions are asked from a focus group question guide. If you are not able to record direct quotations, use keywords and phrases. In this way, you can save a lot of time.
  • Differentiate Participant Comments and Your Own Observations – You should distinguish clearly between participant comments and your own observations. Use a column in your form to write down the quotes or the main ideas of what a speaker said and in another column write down your observations. Either use your own initials or ‘MO’ indicating ‘My Observation’.
  • Cover a Variety of Observations – Apart from documenting what people say during a focus group session, record their body language, moods or attitudes, the general environment and other information that could be relevant for the session.

Once you finish the initial note-taking and expanding the notes, conduct a debriefing session with the focus group moderator to add any additional information, discuss any issues or comments that require clarification, any particular questions that didn’t work well, and new topics. Also, try to identify missing information. You can then use the notes for effective transcription.

About Julie Clements

Julie Clements

Joined the MOS team in March of 2008. Julie Clements has background in the healthcare staffing arena; as well as 6 years as Director of Sales and Marketing at a 4 star resort. Julie was instrumental in the creation of the medical record review division (and new web site); and has especially grown this division along with data conversion of all kinds.