A discussion guide is used to outline the areas of questioning used in a qualitative interview or group discussion. Discussion guides, sometimes referred to as topic guides can vary in detail. The term ‘topic guide’ tends to be used when the interview will take on a more open approach whereas ‘discussion guide’ will usually have a more structured pattern to the interview or focus group.
Discussion guides are useful for both the researcher and the client as both parties are able to clarify the amount of emphasis on each topic area and the flow of the interview. Often an essential part of the research process, discussion guides also work in building up researcher/client rapport, as the discussion guide acts as a reference tool and a solid foundation for the interview or group discussion to build upon, increasing confidence and trust for both parties.
A discussion guide may begin with an introduction of the researcher, the purpose of the research followed by general logistical information including how long the interview may take, it may then outline the objectives and aims of the interviews and suggest how the client may use the information the respondent has provided. The discussion guide will then go on to highlight the questions themselves usually outlining a ‘funnel’ approach, whereby an interview would begin with open broader topics before asking more probing and pressing questions. The interview or group discussion questions would then become narrower funnelling into particular issues followed by further clarification questions. Finally, the discussion guide may suggest drawing the interview to a close with a couple of summarising questions or statements. This is a generalised example of a discussion guide and individuals often adapt it to suit their research project for the particular client and respondents involved. However it is often an integral part of the research process.
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