The Influence of Setting on Findings Produced in Qualitative Health Research: A Comparison between Face-to-Face and Online Discussion Groups about HIV/AIDS

  • Guendalina Graffigna Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano
  • A. C. Bosio Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano


The authors focus their analysis in this article on online focus groups (FGs), in an attempt to describe how the setting shapes the conversational features of the discussion and influences data construction. Starting from a review of current dominant viewpoints, they compare face-to-face discussion groups with different formats of online FGs about AIDS, from a discourse analysis perspective. They conducted 2 face-to-face FGs, 2 chats, 2 forums, and 2 forums+plus+chat involving 64 participants aged 18 to 25 and living in Italy. Their findings seem not only to confirm the hypothesis of a general difference between a face-to-face discussion setting and an Internet-mediated one but also reveal differences among the forms of online FG, in terms of both the thematic articulation of discourse and the conversational and relational characteristics of group exchange, suggesting that exchanges on HIV/AIDS are characterized by the setting. This characterization seems to be important for situating the choice of tool, according to research objectives, and for better defining the technical aspects of the research project.