This paper provides an overview of the contribution of medical education research which has employed focus group methodology to evaluate both undergraduate education and continuing professional development. It also examines current debates about the ethics and practicalities involved in conducting focus group research. It gives guidance as to how to go about designing and planning focus group studies, highlighting common misconceptions and pitfalls, emphasising that most problems stem from researchers ignoring the central assumptions which underpin the qualitative research endeavour. Particular attention is paid to analysis and presentation of focus group work and the uses to which such information is put. Finally, it speculates about the future of focus group research in general and research in medical education in particular.