Use Validated Data Collection Instruments and Avoid Reinventing the Wheel

Data collection instruments such as surveys, questionnaires and intake forms that have been rigorously tested for validity often exist but are not always easy to find. Using existing validated instruments reduces duplication of effort, promotes harmonization of data collection standards, adds credibility to results and allows for comparison of results across studies. Options for locating existing validated instruments include searching the literature, consulting with content experts and browsing common instrument repositories (e.g. RAND). Once an instrument is found, it is not always clear whether a licensing agreement exists and if use is free. A great resource available to the Washington University research community for finding free validated instruments and associated license agreements is the REDCap Shared Library1.

The REDCap Shared Library is a repository of curated data collection instruments available to all REDCap users. The majority of the instruments in the repository have been reviewed by the REDCap Library Oversight Committee (RELOC) to ensure they have been tested for validity and are coded accurately. All of the instruments are available for free to REDCap users but are subject to the terms of a licensing agreement. If you do not have a REDCap account, you can browse the library but will not be able to use an instrument.

To use an instrument from the library you must create an account, log in to REDCap and create a project. Then click the “REDCap Shared Library” button within the Project Setup tab or select the “Import” button within the “Online Designer” tool. Either method will navigate you to the library where you have the option to search for a specific instrument or search by keyword (e.g. diabetes). You also can filter to only view instruments that have been reviewed by the RELOC for validity and coding accuracy.

After finding an instrument, you have the option to preview it as it will appear in a REDCap project or open it as a PDF. Before importing the instrument to your REDCap project or viewing as a PDF, you will be required to read and understand the licensing agreement associated with that specific instrument. If you have an instrument in mind that is not in the library, you can suggest it be reviewed for library inclusion. When you publish a paper using the REDCap Shared Library, be sure to cite Obeid et al., 20131.  Anytime you publish a paper for a project that used REDCap, be sure to cite Harris et al., 20092.

Additional resources are also available to find the validated data collection instruments outside of REDCap.

If you currently do not use REDCap and would like to learn more about it, come to one of the workshops offered as part of Becker Library’s new Data Management and Sharing services!



  1. Obeid JS, McGraw CA, Minor BL, et al. Procurement of shared data instruments for Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap). J Biomed Inform. 2013. doi:10.1016/j.jbi.2012.10.006
  2. Harris PA, Taylor R, Thielke R, Payne J, Gonzalez N, Conde JG. Research electronic data capture (REDCap)—A metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. J Biomed Inform. 2009;42(2):377-381. doi:10.1016/J.JBI.2008.08.010