Instrument selection for randomized controlled trials: why this and not that?

Contemp Clin Trials. 2012 Jan;33(1):143-50. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2011.09.006. Epub 2011 Oct 1.


A fundamental linchpin for obtaining rigorous findings in quantitative research involves the selection of survey instruments. Psychometric recommendations are available for the processes for scale development and testing and guidance for selection of established scales. These processes are necessary to address the validity link between the phenomena under investigation, the empirical measures and, ultimately, the theoretical ties between these and the world views of the participants. Detailed information is most often provided about study design and protocols, but far less frequently is a detailed theoretical explanation provided for why specific instruments are chosen. Guidance to inform choices is often difficult to find when scales are needed for specific cultural, ethnic, or racial groups. This paper details the rationale underlying instrument selection for measurement of the major processes (intervention, mediator and moderator variables, outcome variables) in an ongoing study of postpartum Latinas, Madres para la Salud [Mothers for Health]. The rationale underpinning our choices includes a discussion of alternatives, when appropriate. These exemplars may provide direction for other intervention researchers who are working with specific cultural, racial, or ethnic groups or for other investigators who are seeking to select the 'best' instrument. Thoughtful consideration of measurement and articulation of the rationale underlying our choices facilitates the maintenance of rigor within the study design and improves our ability to assess study outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection*
  • Psychometrics / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results