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Finding Research Instruments, Surveys, and Tests: Home

What are Research Instruments

A research instrument is a survey, questionnaire, test, scale, rating, or tool designed to measure the variable(s), characteristic(s), or information of interest, often a behavioral or psychological characteristic. Research instruments can be helpful tools to your research study.

"Careful planning for data collection can help with setting realistic goals. Data collection instrumentation, such as surveys, physiologic measures (blood pressure or temperature), or interview guides, must be identified and described. Using previously validated collection instruments can save time and increase the study's credibility. Once the data collection procedure has been determined, a time line for completion should be established." (Pierce, 2009, p. 159)

  • Pierce, L.L. (2009). Twelve steps for success in the nursing research journey. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing 40(4), 154-162.

A research instrument is developed as a method of data generation by researchers and information about the research instrument is shared in order to establish the credibility and validity of the method. Whether other researchers may use the research instrument is the decision of the original author-researchers. They may make it publicly available for free or for a price or they may not share it at all. Sources about research instruments have a purpose of describing the instrument to inform. Sources may or may not provide the instrument itself or the contact information of the author-researcher. The onus is on the reader-researcher to try to find the instrument itself or to contact the author-researcher to request permission for its use, if necessary.

How to choose the right one?

Are you trying to find background information about a research instrument? Or are you trying to find and obtain an actual copy of the instrument?

If you need information about a research instrument, what kind of information do you need? Do you need information on the structure of the instrument, its content, its development, its psychometric reliability or validity? What do you need?

If you plan to obtain an actual copy of the instrument to use in research, you need to be concerned not only with obtaining the instrument, but also obtaining permission to use the instrument. Research instruments may be copyrighted. To obtain permission, contact the copyright holder in writing (print or email).

If someone posts a published test or instrument without the permission of the copyright holder, they may be violating copyright and could be legally liable. 

What are you trying to measure? For example, if you are studying depression, are you trying to measure the duration of depression, the intensity of depression, the change over time of the episodes, … what? The instrument must measure what you need or it is useless to you.

Factors to consider when selecting an instrument are
• Well-tested factorial structure, validity & reliability
• Availability of supportive materials and technology for entering, analyzing and interpreting results
• Availability of normative data as a reference for evaluating, interpreting, or placing in context individual test scores
• Applicable to wide range of participants
• Can also be used as personal development tool/exercise
• User-friendliness & administrative ease
• Availability; can you obtain it?
• Does it require permission from the owner to use it?
• Financial cost
• Amount of time required

Check the validity and reliability of tests and instruments. Do they really measure what they claim to measure? Do they measure consistently over time, with different research subjects and ethnic groups, and after repeated use? Research articles that used the test will often include reliability and validity data.

How Locate Instrument

Realize that searching for an instrument may take a lot of time. They may be published in a book or article on a particular subject. They be published and described in a dissertation. They may posted on the Internet and freely available. A specific instrument may be found in multiple publications and have been used for a long time. Or it may be new and only described in a few places. It may only be available by contacting the person who developed it, who may or may not respond to your inquiry in a timely manner.

There are a variety of sources that may used to search for research instruments. They include books, databases, Internet search engines, Web sites, journal articles, and dissertations.

A few key sources and search tips are listed in this guide.

Permission to Use the Test

If you plan to obtain an actual copy of the instrument to use in research, you need to be concerned not only with obtaining the instrument, but also obtaining permission to use the instrument. Research instruments are copyrighted. To obtain permission, contact the copyright holder to obtain permission in writing (print or email). Written permission is a record that you obtained permission.

It is a good idea to have them state in wiritng that they are indeed the copyright holder and that they grant you permission to use the instrument. If you wish to publish the actual instrument in your paper, get permission for that, too. You may write about the instrument without obtaining permission. (But remember to cite it!)

If someone posts a published test or instrument without the permission of the copyright holder, they are violating copyright and could be legally liable. 

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