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Testing and Research Instruments


Patient Satisfaction Survey - PSQ-III

Image Source:  Rand Health Care (n.d.).  Patient Satisifaction Survey (PSQ-III)  

Many disciplines use some type of measurement instrument in their research, especially those in social science, education, health science, or business.  These instruments can include;

  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires
  • Tests
  • Scales
  • Other measurement instruments


Instruments are generally protected by copyright, which means a scholar who wants to use one may need to request permission for the following:

  • Use for scholarly research.
  • Reproducing some or all of the items in a publication.

Instruments Found in Publications or on the Internet.  

Instruments or surveys found directly online, through a web site, or in a publication are not necessarily free or in the public domain.  They may have copyright protection.  

Terms of Use and Permissions. 

Measurement instruments are an important part of research and inquiry, so students and researchers should make the following determinations about their terms of use and any required permissions.

Can't a survey be used freely for research?  See FAQs for the answer and explanation.  

*Disclaimer: The FAU Libraries and its faculty, staff, and administration are not attorneys and cannot interpret the law.  This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not substitute for advice from legal counsel.

1. Find an Instrument

A.  Identify an Instrument. 

Measurement instruments on a given topic can be identified the following ways:

  • An internet search. 
  • Publications or presentations.
  • Recommendations by a professor, advisor, or colleague.

The FAU Libraries or your local library also have databases that provide information about various scales, surveys, and other instruments:

Example.  See this example for information on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) in PsycNet:

B.  Look Up Its Publisher.  

Many measurement instruments are available through publishers who provide Information through their websites.  See the following example for Pearson that publishes the MMPI-2:

2. Clarify Your Purpose of Use

Why is the survey being used?  Your purpose will determine if permissions are required to use it and if you need to purchase it.

A.  Assignment for a Course.

If you are using an instrument in an assignment for a course, permissions are usually not required.  However, keep in mind that some instruments or scales may need an answer key in order to be scored and interpreted.

B.  Scholarly Uses.  

Depending on the type of research being done, where you are in the research cycle, and the instrument you want to use, you may need permission from your institution, the publisher of an instrument, or both. 

Human Subjects Research.  Administering measurements or gathering information on people for research purposes are forms of human subjects research. Some types of  scholarly activity may need to be reviewed and receive an organization's official approval before an instrument can be used in research.  

Consult your organization or university entity that coordinates human subject research such as an Institutional Review Board. 

C.  Publications (e.g., Thesis, Journal Article) or Professional Presentations.

Permissions may be needed from an instrument's author or publisher to reproduce its items.  See steps 3 and 4 for more information.

3. Types of Permissions

Your instrument may require you to get permission before administering it or reproducing its items in a publication.  Some instruments may have one of the following statements that indicate its permissions of use:

A.  Statements Allowing Use Without Permission.

i.  "Use for Research / Teaching":  Some instruments will have this or a similar statement that allows use without permission if it for teaching or research.  Be sure to read and follow any conditions are included.

Example:  See the statement in the Smartphone Addiction Scale - SAS (Kwon, et al., 2013):  

ii.  Creative Commons (CC) license:  A CC license indicates permission is not required to reuse an instrument as long as the terms of the license are followed.  A license like CC-BY or others like it will appear as a label or statement on an instrument.

See the Creative Commons guide for an explanation of the licenses and their allowed uses.  Some licenses allow use as long as its creator is given credit (CC-BY) or if it is used for noncommercial purposes (CC-BY-NC).

iii.  Public Domain:  A work in the public domain does not have copyright protection, so permission is not required to use it.  An instrument in the public domain would have a statement ("Public Domain Work") or label (CC0) that its creator adds to it.  Some organizations or institutions may have their instruments in the public domain. 

Example:  RAND's health care surveys:

B.  Requesting Permission.

If an instrument is does not have a statement that allows its use without permission, check either an author or an instrument's publisher for information and permission.  An author or publisher may indicate the types of uses that need permission, which can include reproducing part of it or changing it (like translation into another language). 

i.  Author Requests:  

If an author needs to be contacted for permission, see the following guide for suggestions and a sample letter of request:

ii.  Publisher Information.  Sometimes a publisher provides scholars with permission to use an instrument.  

Example:  Pearson publishes Everyday Memory Survey.  See its page for the cost of the instrument and what is provided:

4. Reproducing Items / Fair Use

A scholar may want to copy items from a measurement instrument onto their article, dissertation, or other publication.  If they wish to do so, they should consider the following:

A.  Questions to Ask:

  • What is the purpose of reproduction?  Does the scholar believe including items help demonstrate points they wish to make or support their main arguments?    
  • What portion of items are being reproduced?   Does the scholar want to reproduce 1 item, a few, or the entire instrument?  Depending on the portion, they again should consider this purpose.
  • What permissions are required for reproducing?  A scholar should see an author or publisher's policies and the permissions they require.  If permissions are granted by an author, the scholar should contact them and provide information about their intended use.

A scholar may also consider fair use, where they will not need permission.

B.  Fair Use. 

Let's say a scholar decided to copy 2 items from an instrument onto a presentation slide to support a point they made.  If they didn't get permission, how can they do this?  Their decision depended on their fair use analysis for their instance.

About Fair Use.  This scholar applied fair use, a copyright exception that is frequently utilized to reuse works for educational, scholarly, or creative uses.  These uses, however, are not an automatic pass to reuse entire works, including a measurement instrument, without permission.  While measurement instruments may have copyright protection, scholars may consider limited uses of it without permission depending on the details of their use.

Fair Use Analysis Fair use does not have firm guidelines or specifics, so a scholar will need to do a fair use analysis by evaluating the following factors:

  • Purpose of use and a work's character;
  • Amount and proportion of work used;
  • Nature or type of work;
  • Effect on market value or demand;
  • Transformative use.

For additional information, see the Libraries' research guides in copyright and fair use.

If a scholar determines their fair use analysis is weak or they are concerned about copyright infringement, they can request permissions through an instrument's author or publisher.  

5. Costs or Fees

Some publishers may require payment for an instrument's use which provides access to its kit, scoring key, alternative formats, and more.  

Example:  Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) by Pearson:

6. Qualifications

Some instruments may require certain qualifications or credentials for whoever administers them.  Publishers will define them if they have any.  These requirements may include:

  • Educational levels (e.g., Ph.D, Psych.D, or MSW)
  • Certifications (e.g., LCSW)
  • Experience or expertise (e.g., must be a clinician or professor)
  • Employment (e.g., must work at an accredited institution)

A publisher reserves the right to grant or deny permission to someone who does not have their specified qualifications.  If you do not have them, consult your advisor to identify other options, or select another survey. 

Example:  Pearson, the permissions holder for Beck Anxiety Inventory - BAI, outlines its qualifications to administer its tests:

FAQ on Requesting Permission

Q1: Wouldn't fair use allow me to use a survey without permission for my research?  I thought I didn't need permission as long as it was for scholarly work.  

Answer:  Most measurement instruments have copyright protections that allow their creators (or the holder of a copyright such as a publisher) to do the following:

  • Copy, distribute, or resell their work.
  • Grant permission for reusing or making a derivative of their work
  • Restrict others from reusing or copying their work without permission. 

These rights apply even when works are used for research or educational purposes.  Scholars should comply with copyright even while teaching, doing research, presenting, and publishing.

Fair use is an exception in copyright that allows limited uses for works without permission depending on the details.  Fair use is frequently utilized to reuse works for educational, scholarly, or creative uses, but these uses are not an automatic pass to use entire works, including a measurement instrument.

For additional information, see the Libraries' research guides in copyright and fair use.

Q2:  I located the author for a survey instrument, but not a publisher.  What should I include in my request?  I could also use a sample letter requesting permission to reuse it.

Answer:  When contacting an author, legal experts recommend providing them with the following information:

  • Your intended use:  this could include research, teaching, presenting, or publishing (especially in a thesis or book).
  • The amount or how much you want to reprint:  select questions or the entire instrument?
  • The time span you plan to use the instrument.

See the "Request Permission" Research Guide for more details on making a request.  The guide also provides a sample letter.

Q3:  I contacted the author with a request, but did not get a response.  What should I do?

Answer:  An author is not obligated by law to respond to requests to use an instrument.  If this happens, the author may have a publisher manage permissions.  Check the instrument for its publisher; they will often provide permission through a website.  See the Libraries' measurement databases to assist you with identifying a publisher, or contact your local library.

Q4:  What happens if I use an instrument without permission?

Certain types of research or uses may not require permissions, but verify this before proceeding.  

If you are using the instrument without permission for research or for a publication, you may encounter some of these issues: 

  • Scoring:  You may not have access to the scoring key or instructions needed to calculate its results, so you may be unable to accurately interpret the responses.
  • Delays in Research:  Your advisor or professor may ask you to secure permission, which may delay finalizing your research.
  • Delays in Publication:  The publisher of your work, whether yours is a thesis or a journal article, will want an indication of your permission to use or reprint the instrument.  According to The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th Ed.), a publisher may not progress a manuscript towards its final version until the author provides documentation of permission, resulting in publication delays.
  • Retraction:  A published work may be retracted if an instrument creator makes a complaint to a publisher.
  • Inquiries in Unethical Research Practices:  Not securing the necessary permissions for research on human subjects may lead to inquiries.  See Hays, et. al, "Commentary: Copyright restrictions versus open access to survey instruments," for other scenarios faced by scholars when this occurred.
Last updated on May 23, 2024 4:23 PM