PUCHTA, C. and POTTER, J., 1999. Asking elaborate questions: focus groups and the management of spontaneity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3(3), pp. 314-335
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.