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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Cross-cultural adaptation of research instruments: language, setting, time and statistical considerations

Linn Gjersing1*, John RM Caplehorn2 and Thomas Clausen1

Author Affiliations

1 SERAF- Norwegian Centre for Addiction Research, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

2 School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2010, 10:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-10-13

Published: 10 February 2010



Research questionnaires are not always translated appropriately before they are used in new temporal, cultural or linguistic settings. The results based on such instruments may therefore not accurately reflect what they are supposed to measure. This paper aims to illustrate the process and required steps involved in the cross-cultural adaptation of a research instrument using the adaptation process of an attitudinal instrument as an example.


A questionnaire was needed for the implementation of a study in Norway 2007. There was no appropriate instruments available in Norwegian, thus an Australian-English instrument was cross-culturally adapted.


The adaptation process included investigation of conceptual and item equivalence. Two forward and two back-translations were synthesized and compared by an expert committee. Thereafter the instrument was pretested and adjusted accordingly. The final questionnaire was administered to opioid maintenance treatment staff (n=140) and harm reduction staff (n=180). The overall response rate was 84%. The original instrument failed confirmatory analysis. Instead a new two-factor scale was identified and found valid in the new setting.


The failure of the original scale highlights the importance of adapting instruments to current research settings. It also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that concepts within an instrument are equal between the original and target language, time and context. If the described stages in the cross-cultural adaptation process had been omitted, the findings would have been misleading, even if presented with apparent precision. Thus, it is important to consider possible barriers when making a direct comparison between different nations, cultures and times.