Conducting the session and reporting the findings

A useful aid to the moderator is the provision of name cards. Initially, there should be a brief discussion of the ground rules for the session. The moderator tells the group about its purpose, stating that the sponsoring firm looks forward to the group's discussion on this topic as an aid in deciding a crucial matter. The use of a one-way mirror should be explained to the participants. There may be a brief account of who the sponsoring firm is, what it does and why problems such as these make so much difference. Some mention should also be made of how the results of the session will be used. The participants then usually introduce themselves with a few brief remarks.

The moderator's guide should be used to steer participants into discussion of the areas the sponsor wants covered. It should not be necessary for the moderator to spend time merely asking questions and receiving answers. Participants should be encouraged to voice their thoughts without prodding. A well-chosen moderator will be experienced enough to draw out the quiet ones and to quiet the talkative. At the end of the discussion, the moderator should summarise the group's suggestions, ideas and attitudes.

It can be difficult to record informal interviews. Should the interviewer record everything that the respondents say, record only those remarks that are considered relevant or should the respondents' answers be paraphrased? The last two procedures introduce the danger of interviewer bias, so in most cases the verbatim report is probably the best solution.

Tape recording is particularly useful in informal interviews as long as none of the respondents objects. The use of tape recorders permits the recording of everything that respondents say, thus enabling the interviewer to concentrate on the interview. On average it may take two to three times as long to transcribe tapes as it does to record the conversation. Thus an hour-long interview may take two to three hours to transcribe. In transcribing the tapes, everything that the interviewer and the respondents say has to be written down. However, when writing up transcriptions, views, attitudes and factual answers may be put into a logical order for the ease of the reader.

The debriefing and wrap-up should be carried out immediately after the session. Strong points can be emphasised and errors noted while they are fresh in everyone's minds. Debriefing and wrap-up can also come after the conclusion of a number of sessions on the same research problem. Here the emphasis will be on those ideas and attitudes that were common to all groups. There may be a written or video screen report, which should emphasise all the important attitudes and issues expressed by one or more of the groups. The report should also recommend further necessary research.

Formal written reports can take on one of several formats according to the client's needs, the researcher's style and what was formally agreed on in the research proposal. At one extreme, the investigator can prepare a brief impressionistic summary of the main findings, relying mainly on memory. This type of report is often used with experiencing groups, where the main objective is for the clients to experience real customers. The client can retain the tape recordings of the sessions and listen to the groups several times to become immersed in what the customers are saying. At the other extreme, the researcher listens to the tapes, copying down salient quotations and fitting the participants' thoughts into a more general scheme derived from the research objectives and the researcher's training.

A method lying between the two extremes and, indeed, the most common method, is often called the cut-and-paste technique. It lacks the in-depth psychological analysis of the clinical report, but still requires considerable skill and insight on the part of the researcher. The first step is to have the group sessions transcribed. Next, the researcher reviews the transcripts, looking for common threads or trends in response patterns. Similar patterns are then cut out and matched between the groups. The researcher then produces folders containing relevant material by subject matter.

The last step is to write the actual report: the introduction describing the purpose of the research, the major questions the researcher sought to answer, the nature and characteristics of the group members and how they were recruited. This is followed by a two- or three-page summary of findings and recommendations. The report concludes with the main body of findings.

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