The goal of this work was to develop an economical way of tracking disease activity for large groups of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients in clinical studies. A Systemic Lupus Activity Questionnaire (SLAQ) was developed to screen for possible disease activity using items from the Systemic Lupus Activity Measure (SLAM) and tested for its measurement properties. The SLAQ was completed by 93 SLE patients just prior to a scheduled visit. At the visit, a rheumatologist, blinded to SLAQ results, examined the subject and completed a SLAM. Associations among SLAQ, and SLAM (omitting laboratory items) and between individual items from each instrument were assessed with Pearson correlations. Correlations between pairs of instruments were compared using Student's t-tests. The mean score across all 24 SLAQ items was 11.5 (range 0-33); mean SLAM without labs was 3.0 (range 0-13). The SLAQ had a moderately high correlation with SLAM-nolab (r = 0.62, P < 0.0001). Correlations between patient-clinician matched pairs of items ranged from r = 0.06 to 0.71. Positive predictive values for the SLAQ ranged from 56 to 89% for detecting clinically significant disease activity. In studies of SLE, symptoms suggesting disease can be screened by self-report using the SLAQ and then verified by further evaluation.