Assessment, Survey, Measurement Instruments


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ABOUT Social Research Instruments for Public Health

1 of 2Doing public health research may require an instrument (survey, questionnaire, focus group guide, observation protocol, etc.) to assess the opinions, needs or interests of a group of people. It should be a Reliable and Valid instrument

The instrument can be administered in person, on paper, via computer, or over the telephone. An instrument may ask open ended questions, use a scale, or ask respondents to select a picture or move a slider.  It can test knowledge, confidence, emotions, or any other quantifiable human characteristic.

EXAMPLES of instruments - will open in new Tabs:

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ABOUT Social Research Instruments for Public Health

2 of 2NOTES about instruments
  • Deciding which instrument to use is difficult.
  • Finding a copy of it can be very difficult.
  • Getting permission to use it, plus the score sheets, is often on beyond difficult: maddening, expensive, tedious, and time consuming. Or sometimes, impossible.
  • In addition to paying for the instrument, you may be required to take training in administering it. Or you may be required to already have a degree.
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ORGANIZE your search

Bibliographic management tools such as EndNote and RefWorks have Keyword fields. Use the keyword field to record the instrument(s) mentioned in each article, as well as any notes you have about the article.

DEFINE your needs

Define the results you want from your instrument.  Social Research Methods offers a guide.

Some strategies:

  • Make a list of all the possible things you want to find out from your population, and then sort it by the most important to the least important.
  • Write a blurb defining the optimal outcome of your survey.
  • Look through your literature search for ideas about how survey instruments have been used in your field.

Some important elements to consider:

  • Format(s): Oral, written, graphic
  • Language(s): English, Spanish, others
  • How: Administered in person, remotely or both or either
  • When: Done before, during and/or after intervention

MAKE a List of Reliable and Valid Instruments

1 of 2

Once you know what you might need, make a list of the True Names (see note on next page) of potential instruments.

  • Ask experts: your dissertation advisors or other expert in the field.
  • Review your literature search for the instruments used by other researchers.
  • "Search within" the Encyclopedia of Measurement and Statistics for your topic to find instruments that measure it.
  • When you schedule your appointment with a librarian for the literature review, mention the need to find an instrument.
  • As a last resort, schedule a consult with a commercial service such as Statistics Solutions.

MAKE a List of Reliable and Valid Instruments

2 of 2NOTES - the True Names of instruments
  • Sometimes two or more instruments have the same name. Check the authors to be sure you have the right one.
  • Sometimes the common name used for an instrument isn't its true name. Check the bibliography or ask a librarian. The Health and Psychosocial Instruments (HaPI - next page) database and the Mental Measurements Yearbook are good sources.
  • Instruments are often updated. Be sure you have the most recent version - ask the owner.

EVALUATE potential instruments

The Arizona Health Sciences Library's provides Health and Psychosocial Instruments. Search HaPI for the title of each instrument, such as:

  •  Boredom Proneness Scale

The results are a list of articles that used that scale. View their abstracts (or even read the articles, book chapters, dissertations, web site, or other source for the instrument.)

Check to see if other scholars are:

  • Using your chosen instrument for purposes similar to yours
  • That the instrument has been validated

Before leaving HaPI....

LOCATE a copy of the instrument - articles

Start with the first reference in HaPI, and proceed through the list until you find the instrument and its scoring system.  Check each reference's "Complete Reference" for the source of the instrument under the References tag. Visit this source to see if the instrument, permissions, and scoring system are provided.

If that didn't work ...

  • If you selected an instrument from an article, check its bibliography - the authors probably listed their source for it. Check those sources. You can also email the authors for information about how they obtained use of the instrument.
  • Search Google Scholar for the instrument's name in quote marks:

"Movement Assessment Battery for Children"

LOCATE a copy of the instrument - databanks

If the instrument remains elusive, the next step is to check instrument databanks. These range from electronic books to commercial sites that sell access to the tools.


LOCATE a copy of the instrument - dissertations

If the instrument isn't found in an article, book or database, then it may have been developed for a Dissertation. An instrument that has only been published in a dissertation has more to prove in the reliability and validity arenas. If only the instrument's author has judged the quality of the tool... be wary.

Search for the name of the test in quotes; add the instrument author's name if needed.

LOCATE a copy of the instrument - web page

Last ... Search Google.

Why is this last? Google lacks quality control. The page you find might be

  • a pirated edition of the instrument
  • some home-grown expert's "improved version" - but not validated or reliable
  • an older edition of a significantly updated tool
  • more expensive than going through academic channels: you are being charged for the convenience of being easy to find.

Double-check anything you find in Google with other sources, especially the instrument's owner.

PERMISSION to use the instrument

You found it! Congratulations.  Now you need permission to use it.

Even if the instrument is free, it is still copyrighted. You must get written permission from the owner to administer and score the instrument - and to publish results from using it. A dissertation is considered a publication ... and copyright piracy is a really good way to mess up a career.

The instrument's owner may be a scholar, a clinician, a government office, a testing company, a publisher or a university. Generally - but not always - the author is the owner ... or at least knows who the owner is.

Before you buy - double check to be sure the source you are purchasing from is reputable.

OTHER guides to social research instruments

These guides will open in new Tabs: