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Using Surveys and Other Measurement Instruments for Research or Scholarly Inquiry


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, even if the use is for scholarly research.

Instruments are an important part of research and inquiry, so students and researchers should make the following determinations before selecting and using one.

1. Find an Instrument

1.  Find an Instrument.  Measurement instruments can be identified in publications or presentations about your research topic, or by searching the internet.  They can also be recommended by a professor, advisor, or colleague. 

If you do not have a name of an instrument, an internet search may help identify one to use for your topic.  The FAU Libraries or your local library also have databases that provide information about various scales, surveys, and other instruments:

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

Information about measurement instruments can also be found through their publisher websites.  See the following example for MMPI-2 that is published by Pearson:

2. Clarify Your Purpose of Use

2.  Clarify Your Purpose of Its Use.  Why is the survey being used?  Your purpose will determine if permissions are required to use the instrument, or 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 for use.  However, keep in mind that some instruments or scales may need an answer key in order for them to be scored and interpreted.

b.  Research for a publication (thesis, journal article) or a professional presentation: These uses may require permission. See "Step 3: Permission for Use" for more information. 

In addition, consult with your university Institutional Review Board or your organization's entity that coordinates human subjects research.  Some types of research may need to be reviewed and receive approval before an instrument can be administered.

3. Permission for Use

3.  Permissions for Use.  Check the measurement instrument for the following:

a.  "Use for Research / Teaching":  Some instruments will have this or a similar statement to indicate they can be used for research and teaching purposes.  If this instrument is selected for your research, be sure to its use is for these purposes. 

For one example, see the statement in the Smartphone Addiction Scale - SAS (Kwon, et al., 2013):  

b.  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).

c.  Public Domain:  A work in the public domain (CC0) does not have copyright protection, so permission is not required to use it.  However, attributing its creator and source is recommended to give credit and minimize plagiarism.

Some organizations or institutions may have their instruments in the public domain:

d.  Publisher or Author Information:  If a measurement instrument is not in the public domain, without a Creative Commons license, or does not have a "for research/ teaching uses" statement, check for its publisher or author information.  An instrument will usually have the name of its publisher or author, and either may provide a scholar with permission to administer an instrument or for other uses. 

A publisher or author may often indicate the types of uses that need permission.  Some publishers or authors may require permission for them to be administered, while some may also want a fee for its use (see #4 Costs).  Others may require permission only to reprint it, whether it is a few questions or the entire instrument. 

4. Costs

4.  Costs:  Some instruments may require payment for its use, and also for access to its answer key to allow scoring and interpretation.  See the example from Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) by Pearson:

5. Qualifications

4.  Qualifications:  Other surveys may require 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)

An instrument's publisher will identify these requirements; a publisher may not give permission to someone without their qualifications.  If you do not have them, consult your advisor to identify other options, or select another survey. 

See the example from Pearson for Beck Anxiety Inventory - BAI:

FAQ on Requesting Permission

Q1:  I located the author for a survey instrument.  What should I include in my request?  Better yet, where can I find a sample letter requesting permission to reuse it?

When contacting an author, copyright legal experts recommend proving authors with the following information:

  • Your intended use (research or for a thesis) and topic.
  • The amount or how much you want to reprint in your publication:  select questions or the entire instrument?
  • The time you plan to use the instrument.

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

Q2:  I contacted the author with a request, but did not get a response.  What should I do?

An author is not obligated by law to respond to requests to use an instrument.  If this happens, check if it has a publisher who provides permissions; they will often do this through a website.  See the Libraries' measurement databases to assist you with identifying a publisher, or contact your local campus library.

Q3:  What happens if I use an instrument without permission to use it, and then complete my publication or presentation?

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

  • Your advisor or professor may ask you to secure permission for its use.
  • You may not have access to the scoring key or instructions needed to calculate its results, so you may be unable to interpret the responses.
  • The publisher of your work, whether yours is a thesis or a journal article, will want an indication of permission to use or reprint the survey.  The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th Ed.) advises scholars that a publisher will not progress a manuscript towards its final version until the publisher is provided with documentation of permissions.