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Using Surveys and Other Measurement Instruments in Research


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, including when it is used for scholarly research.

Please note that instruments found directly online, through a web site, or in a publication are not necessarily in the public domain.  They may not be free or used without permission.  Works posted on the internet have copyright protection, and some instruments may be used only by permission depending on the purpose.

Measurement 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

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

To identify 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

Clarify Your Purpose of 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.  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, Publications (e.g., Thesis, Journal Article), or Professional Presentations: 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 to use one.  See "Step 3: Permission for Use" for more information. 

Human Subjects Research.  Administering measurements or gathering information on people for research purposes are forms of of human subjects research.  Consult your organization or university entity that coordinates human subject research such as an Institutional Review Board.  Some types of  scholarly activity may need to be reviewed and receive approval before an instrument can be used in research.

3. Permissions for Use

Permissions for Use.  Check the measurement instrument for the following statements that indicate its permissions of use:

A.  Types of Permissions.

i.  "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 use it for these purposes and indicate this where needed. 

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

ii.  Creative Commons (CC) license: Open Access works will have a 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 can be added only by its creator.  

Some organizations or institutions may have their instruments in the public domain.  For example, RAND is one organization that does this:

iv.  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 permission to administer an instrument. 

A publisher or author may often indicate the types of uses that need permission;  this can include using the survey or reproducing all or part of it in a publication.  Some may require a fee for its use (see #4 Costs).

B.  Permission to Reproduce Some (or All) Instrument Items in a Publication.  A scholar may want to copy items from a measurement instrument into their article, thesis, dissertation, or other publication.  If they wish to do so, they should consider the following questions:

  • 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 a larger portion out of all instrument items?  Depending on the portion, they again should consider this purpose.
  • What permissions are required for reproducing?  If the instrument is distributed by a publisher or company, the scholar should see policies on reproducing items and the permissions they may require.  If permissions are granted by an author, the scholar should contact them and provide information about their intended use.

4. Costs

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

Qualifications:  Some instruments 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 who does not fulfil them.  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 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.

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, 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 campus library.

Q3:  What happens if I use an instrument without permission to use it?

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 the following issues: 

  • 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.
  • Your advisor or professor may ask you to secure permission, which may delay finalizing your research.
  • 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.
  •  A published work may be retracted if an instrument creator makes a complaint to a publisher.

Finally, not securing the necessary permissions for research on human subjects may lead to inquiries in unethical research practices. See Hays, et. al, "Commentary: Copyright restrictions versus open access to survey instruments," for other scenarios faced by scholars when this occurred.

Q4:  Wouldn't copyright or fair use allow me to use a survey because it's for research?  

Copyright provides creators with protections for their work that allows them (or a copyright holder like a publisher) rights to distribute and copy it.  This means creators can give permission for reusing or making a derivative of their work, and also restricts others from reusing or copying it without permission.

Fair use is an exception in copyright that allows certain, limited uses for works protected by copyright depending on the details.  It allows works to be reused, depending on the purpose and details, for parody, critique/ commentary, and news purposes.  Fair use is frequently used to legally reuse works for educational, scholarly, or creative uses, but it is not an automatic or free pass to use entire works, including a measurement instrument.

Fair use has some factors that a scholar can evaluate to determine if their reuse of a work would qualify since there are no black and white rules.  Factors to explore include the following:

  • 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.