Results Summary

What was the research about?

To learn about people’s experiences, researchers often use one-on-one interviews and group interviews, called focus groups. Researchers can do interviews and focus groups in person or online.

In this study, the research team wanted to learn if people shared more or different information in person versus online. The team did interviews and focus groups with women about safety during pregnancy and compared the information collected in person or online. To collect information online, the team used either online video, chat, a message board, or email. The team then compared differences in the average number of words and what women discussed across the methods.

What were the results?

The average number of words was similar for interviews and focus groups in person and using online video. In-person interviews had a higher average number of words than interviews using online chat or email. In-person focus groups had a higher average number of words than focus groups using online chat or message boards. Focus groups using online video had a higher average number of words than those using online chat.

In-person and online interviews and focus groups resulted in a similar number of topics discussed. The amount of sensitive information women shared was about the same in person and online. Women were more likely to disagree in focus groups using online chat than in in-person groups or groups using online video.

Who was in the study?

The study included 171 women in North Carolina. Of these, 82 percent were white, 4 percent were black, and 7 percent were of another race. In addition, 6 percent were Hispanic. The median age was 32, and 77 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Women in the study had been pregnant in the past three years and hoped to become pregnant in the next three years.

What did the research team do?

The research team assigned women, by chance, to either an interview or a focus group. Next, the team assigned women to one of four groups:

  • In person. The team held interviews and focus groups in an office conference room.
  • Online video. The team created a private online video chat room. The team used webcams for video and a telephone conference call line for audio.
  • Online chat. Women answered questions in real time using a private online text chat room.
  • Online message board or email. For focus groups, women answered questions on an online discussion board for 7 to 10 days. For interviews, women answered questions throughout 10 days using email.

In focus groups and interviews, the research team asked women about the Zika virus and making decisions about safety during pregnancy.

What were the limits of the study?

The study included women with home internet access. Most women were white and had high education levels. Findings may differ for people from other backgrounds or without home internet access.

Future research could include people from different backgrounds.

How can people use the results?

Researchers can consider the results when choosing ways to ask people about their experiences.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also assesses how the project addressed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts read a draft report of the research and provide comments about the report. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. These reviewers cannot have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve descriptions of the conduct of the study or to clarify the connection between results and conclusions. Sometimes, awardees revise their draft reports twice or more to address all of the reviewers’ comments. 

Peer reviewers commented, and the researchers made changes or provided responses. The comments and responses included the following:

  • Reviewers asked for a better rationale for the fourth study objective, which focused on the clinical content area, as it did not fit well within this methods study. The researchers agreed, stating that they had originally proposed to include the clinical topic in their results but that this did not fit with the rest of the report. The researchers removed this content but stated that they were developing a manuscript for publication that would address the clinical objective.
  • Reviewers noted that the project focused on two measures of focus group and interview data—the volume of data collected and the range of themes—but did not explore these issues in depth, such as analyzing the volume of data per participant within focus groups or how often different focus group participants repeated themes. The researchers agreed that additional analyses were possible. However, since their goal was to provide comparable data from both individual interviews and focus groups, they did not analyze within-group interactions in focus groups that would not apply to individual interviews. They cited other studies that analyzed issues specific to focus groups.
  • Reviewers said that the scale of the study was impressive for a qualitative study but restricting the population studied to women of childbearing age in a small geographical region limited the generalizability of the findings. The researchers explained that most qualitative studies, and focus groups in particular, tend to target a restricted population, but this study considered a population with a relatively wide pool of potential participants. The researchers argued that a degree of homogeneity among participants helped the study avoid confounders when comparing data gathered using different modes of engagement. They suggested that future research can build on this base using other populations.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Gregory Guest, PhD, MA
Family Health International
$953,194 *
Technology-Assisted Qualitative Research: How Does Modality Affect Outcome?

Key Dates

September 2014
May 2019

Study Registration Information

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Journal Articles


Has Results
Award Type
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: January 20, 2023