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2024 Update: Focus groups are a key methodology used in market research. Too many participants can dilute the findings, yet too few isn’t technically a focus group (it’s a dyad or triad). The ideal number is around 6-7.

There are a number of methodologies that market researchers rely on when conducting qualitative research. Depending on the scope and subject, researchers will design market research studies that best engage with participants to solicit input and feedback. While there are a number of ways to engage with study participants through technology, researchers continue to use in-depth interviews and focus groups, as they are tried-and-true methodologies that can yield valuable insights.

Professional moderators are always looking for the ‘sweet spot’ of the number of participants to recruit for focus groups. Recruit too many participants and the quality of the conversation and exploration of the subject matter suffers. Recruit too few and it can become awkward for participants to speak up and share their deeper insights. Is there a magic number when it comes to focus group size? Experienced moderators will tell you that between six or seven is the optimal number for focus group sizes. Having more than seven people in a focus groups doesn’t allow for enough ‘talk time’ from each participant. Additionally, conversations become redundant by the time the eighth or ninth person speaks up.

If the topic being covered is more complex, ‘mini groups’ of between four to five people allows for more in-depth responses from each participant. Keep in mind that while smaller focus group sizes are more appropriate for multifaceted topics, such as healthcare devices or product evaluation, having too few participants in a focus group can negate the effectiveness of what can be discovered if people feel shy about speaking up.

Group dynamics are always at play within any group, and finding the right size so that people feel comfortable enough expressing their views is important so the quality of the study isn’t compromised.

Isn’t a Small Focus Group Just a Dyad or Triad?

Be careful not to conflate dyads and triads with a small focus group. Dyads are conversations that involve two participants who may or may not know each other. If the participants know each other (parent/child; spouses; co-workers, etc.) this is referred to as ‘known pairs.’ Conducting a dyad with known pairs allows the moderator to see how two people manage making decisions with regards to a joint purchase or selection. Alternatively, moderators may recruit two strangers, or what’s known as a ‘conflict pair.’ These are great opportunities to learn about the emotional impulses behind brand loyalty and what some underlying reasons are for feeling strongly about one brand over another.

Triads are comprised of three participants who may or may not know each other. Similar to in-depth interviews or focus groups, triads are good formats for moderators to drill deeper into the subject or topic being explored. Triads also allow moderators to observe how triangulation may influence perceptions and responses.

When it comes to focus groups, more is not always better. Focus groups are at their most effective when they have between six to seven participants.

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Author Bio: Joanna Jones is the founder and CEO of InterQ Research. At InterQ, she oversees study design, manages clients, and moderators studies.