If you propose to design and develop your own instrument, a separate field test of the data collection tools and procedures and of the overall integrity of the design is often appropriate. In other cases, you may need to conduct a more formal pilot study to establish the reliability and validity of the instrument or to determine if the proposed research procedures will produce the anticipated results. (These procedures are most likely used in quantitative studies.)
Field tests are often recommended to assess the strength of research questions/hypotheses or to test the appropriateness of certain data-gathering protocols (e.g., informed consent procedures), instruments/tools (e.g., item content), and data analysis procedures. The proposal should include a description of the field testing of a particular collection method or instrument without the use of human participants (e.g., conducted through expert review or judgment). Such field tests may be conducted prior to the IRB approval. On the other hand, any “live” piloting of instruments (as described below) to establish the reliability and validity of a customized instrument must first receive IRB approval.
A pilot study is most likely called for when you propose to design and validate a quantitative instrument intended for use as part of a larger study or to determine the reasonableness of the anticipated outcomes. A pilot study uses actual participants from the population upon which you are basing your study. When the design, development, and validation of an instrument is not the sole purpose of the dissertation itself, it represents a preliminary study conducted prior to the main study of interest.
Note that you must gain IRB approval prior to conducting any study involving human participants and/or their records, so you will need to present the pilot study in its entirety within the proposal and IRB application before you actually conduct the pilot study. More information is available on iGuide in the Research & Scholarship Center on iGuide. Please consult your mentor with additional questions regarding the creation of a pilot study or field test.