There's often a debate as to which type of research is best. Is it better to conduct surveys or will focus group studies provide the required answers? The basic difference between the two types of research is that surveys are a quantitative research program and focus groups form part of a qualitative research. Qualitative research is exploratory, while quantitative research quantifies the problem and helps understand how widespread it is by looking for projectable results to a large population.
Qualitative research with focus groups should be used when the final outcome of the research can't be predicted. This type of research is often done to get in-depth answers for a particular problem or concept in a way that's not possible through surveys. Focus groups are conducted by a trained facilitator who guides the participants through the discussion, taking care that they don't stray from the topics at hand.
It's also ideal to use a focus group study involving people from diverse backgrounds to get different opinions about a particular idea. The format encourages people to freely express their ideas and show an interest in others' opinions. The number of ideas and opinions that come out of focus groups are many and each can be tested further by doing a survey.
Surveys, which can done via phone, emails and online, are an effective tool to use when you have some knowledge about the research subject but want to see what the population at large thinks about it. They generally have a lot of close-ended or multiple choice questions, offering little opportunity for elaboration. Surveys may be of value if the decision to be made is based on the numbers obtained through research.
At times, organizations or the media want to know what the common man thinks about a topic that could generate lots of controversy if discussed in a forum or closed group of people. For these instances, it makes sense to resort to surveys, because participants can respond without fear or won't be influenced by their peers. Many surveys are anonymous, something that often frees up people to say what they really think.
Most of the time, using both types of research--surveys and focus groups--makes sense if you have the time, resources and knowledge of the issue. A focus group study can give more information and authenticity to a survey report, and the reverse is also true. Conducting a survey to know if people at large share the same opinions as a focus group can be helpful. Always remember that the type of research you conduct should be based on what you're trying to find out.