Researching Human Subjects: Interviews, Focus Groups, and Observation Research

This chapter examines three qualitative research techniques that political scientists and other researchers in the social sciences use to collect data: interviews, focus groups, and observation. The key features of each method, as well as their strengths and limitations, are presented and critically analyzed within a broader discussion of the main issues that researchers should take into account when selecting one (or more) of these approaches.

The chapter identifies interviews as important tools for political science research. Topics discussed include elite interviewing, the role of the interviewer, and the interview framework, as well as tips for writing effective questions. The use of focus groups is also described, along with effective moderating techniques and conditions that facilitate a positive group dynamic. With regards to observation research, the chapter differentiates between obtrusive and unobtrusive observation and outlines the pros and cons of participant observation. An examination of the ethical implications that researchers face when conducting qualitative research concludes the chapter.