Asking elaborate questions: Focus groups and the management of spontaneity

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearch


This paper analyzes question formats in a corpus of German market research focus groups. In particular, it identifies and studies the use of 'elaborate questions' (questions which include a range of reformulations and rewordings). The analysis highlights three functions of such questions in focus groups: (a) they are used to guide participants and head off trouble where the question type is 'non-mundane'; (b) they help secure participation by providing an array of alternative items to respond to; (c) they guide participants to produce a range of opinion relevant responses. More generally, they help manage a dilemma between the requirement that the talk should be both highly focused on predefined topics and issues, and at the same time spontaneous and conversational. The analysis provides a range of interactional evidence for the pragmatic role of these formats.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)314-335
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 08.1999
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Business psychology - question formats, focus groups, conversation analysis, institutional talk, Market research