I’m currently required to make a questionnaire for my research. Is it okay to use only specific questions from previously published questionnaires as these questions perfectly apply to my research context? Will that be considered a plagiarism if I cited these questions?

  • 4
    Aside from the plagiarism issue, be careful that questions removed from a larger instrument may not have the same properties as the whole instrument. Any validation of the original set does not apply to the questions you pull out selectively.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 17:59
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    Ii sounds like you're quite inexperienced with doing research. I recommend you have an extensive discussion with your supervisor about what constitutes plagiarism. Commented May 26, 2023 at 22:46
  • As said, if clear it wouldn't be plagiarism, but it could be bad science. Perhaps science such bad that it would be an unethical waste of your participants' time. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 20:08

4 Answers 4


Plagiarism is not copying. Plagiarism is copying without attribution. By definition, you can not commit plagiarism if you cite the original source and make sure the reader understands well that which parts are others, and not yours.

  • you can not commit plagiarism if you cite the original source - Not true.
    – Kimball
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 14:44
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    @Kimball The main goal of the webpage we are at is educational and to help the asker. Your comment doesn't really do that much as it stands now. Care to elaborate? Is it my particular wording that you don't like, or is it the standard definition of plagiarism you disagree with? Commented May 27, 2023 at 16:17
  • E.g., copying text and merely including a reference to your source without proper quotation can be plagiarism. I also wouldn't say your definition is standard. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism
    – Kimball
    Commented May 28, 2023 at 0:26
  • @Kimball I see your point, I assumed "attribution" covered that in my answer. I will edit for clarification. Commented May 28, 2023 at 8:36

I don't see this as plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing something off as your own words (or thoughts perhaps) without attribution. If you publish an article under your name as author which contains unattributed text copied from elsewhere, that is plagiarism. But here you are using a questionnaire as a tool to collect information. You are not claiming you wrote those questions nor would it be reasonable for someone to assume that. In fact, it would be unexpected and bizarre to cite sources for the questions in a questionnaire. Things could be different if you make other use of the questionnaire. For example, if you publish it as an appendix to an article you probably should include some attribution to sources.


"Is it okay to use only specific questions from previously published questionnaires as these questions perfectly apply to my research context?"

Ans: Using specific questions from previously published questionnaires may be acceptable if they are relevant and appropriate for your research context and objectives. However, you should not rely solely on existing questions (to cherrypick) as they may limit the scope and depth of your inquiry. Instead, you should design your own questionnaire based on a thorough literature review and a clear research gap. This will ensure that your questionnaire is novel, robust, and tailored to your specific case.

Will that be considered a plagiarism if I cited these questions?

Ans: Questions should only be cited if they are relevant to the same context. In research questions, context is crucial. Different fields of research may pose similar or identical questions but with different meanings and implications. For instance: “Did the proposed model improve the performance?” This question could appear in both an Economics paper and a Software Engineering paper. However, these papers should not cite each other’s questions, as it is too common of a question and belongs to different contexts.

If the context is partially overlapping, it is advisable to address this issue of question repetition in the Related Works section, where the differences in context for the same questions can be further discussed and clarified.

An example can illustrate this point: suppose I am proposing model X in my paper P for a certain task. The current state-of-the-art (SOTA) approach, model Y, was proposed in the paper P’ for the same task. I want to include the following question in the questionnaire for the user study of my paper: “On a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being completely disagreed and 10 being completely agreed), do you think the proposed model performs better with respect to the SOTA approach?”. I have already explained the ‘proposed model’ and ‘SOTA approach’ (model Y) to the user group. However, when I examine paper P’, I find the exact same question (verbatim) used by the authors of P’ to validate the superiority of their model Y. I need to use the same question for my model X to demonstrate its superiority over model Y. Therefore, I acknowledge this issue in the Related Section, where I cite paper P’ and explain that I have followed their work and asked similar questions in my user study for the same purpose.

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    This doesn’t answer the question. Commented May 31, 2023 at 2:24
  • modified the answer Commented May 31, 2023 at 19:17
  • I'm still not sure it does. As a psychologist, I interpreted the question about questionnaires differently, although I'm sure your interpretation makes sense in a different research context. However, it's still not clear what the answer to the "is it plagiarism" question is Commented May 31, 2023 at 22:12
  • @AzorAhai-him- The problem is that copyright infringement is always wrong, but plagiarism is mostly wrong in academia only. So in academia, it's discussed a lot more. To the point where people completely forget about the much more common case of copyright infringement.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 9:56
  • @gnasher729 Copyright infringement is a law, not a moral guideline, so it's not necessarily "always wrong." That said, using a published questionnaire is not copyright infringement, because they are published for use ... also Mashuk did not mention copyright infringement so I'm confused by your comment in the first place. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 23:20

First, you need to understand the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. If you cite your source, it's not plagiarism, but if you copy the questionaire without permission, then it is copyright infringement.

Second, the questions in a questionaire are rarely random. Very often a questionaire contains questions where the interviewer has no interest in the answer whatsoever, but these questions are added so the interviewee cannot figure out what the interviewer wants and cannot give the answers that they think the interviewer wants to hear. So if you remove these "pointless" questions, then the answers to the other questions can and will change.

  • Interestingly, a journal recently withdrew a paper that used a questionnaire copied without copyright licensing from the author. retractionwatch.com/2023/06/07/…
    – Neithea
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 13:07

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