CERTAS - Researcher Configurable Palm-Based Self-Monitoring System
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Researcher Configurable Palm-Based Self-Monitoring System

Key FAQs:

Having trouble getting your software to do exactly what you wait it to do? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions Section for more information or click on one of these topics to get specific information.

Key Updates:

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If you find you are having trouble after reviewing all the provided information and prefer to speak with an associate, please feel free to call us at 703-766-1400 or feel free to send us an email.


Getting Started:

  1. How can the CERTAS program help me with my research?
    CERTAS is a program that facilitates the design and implementation of remote, electronic data collection protocols. The system is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a wide range of research disciplines; it can be thought of as protocol “building blocks” that allow data collection questionnaires to take any shape a user requires. It is especially useful for researchers who may have less experience with computer programming because it easily guides them through the process of creating technically sophisticated methods of accurately collecting subject data in real time. CERTAS does this in a Windows®- based format that is both intuitive and familiar for anyone who uses a PC. Finally, it allows a cost-effective way to implement many protocols at once, or serially revise or switch protocols as new studies or research goals arise. The hardware (i.e., one Palm Pilot for each subject involved concurrently, plus one desktop computer) is all that is needed for an unlimited number of research paradigms.
  2. Once I have the CERTAS CD-ROM, how do I get started?
    CERTAS is compatible with any computer using Windows®. To begin, simply insert the CD-ROM into the CD drive on your PC. The setup will begin automatically. All you need to do is follow the simple instructions, such as clicking “next” when indicated. Once installed, the CERTAS program will appear as an icon on your desktop that you can double-click to open, just as you would any other Windows®-based program. (Should you ever wish to remove the CERTAS program, you can go to your computer’s control panel and delete it by going through the “un-install” process).
  3. What is a license key and why do I need one to use the CERTAS program?
    A specific alpha-numeric code, called a license key, is needed to access the CERTAS program. This is done for security purposes, to prevent illegal distribution and use of the product. Since you will be issued a license key directly from the CERTAS developers, you can be assured that you have a legitimate, uncorrupted version of the software. After you insert the CD to begin the setup, you will see a screen that asks you to enter a license key. Above the license key field, you will see text providing your 16-character machine ID (e.g. “Machine ID = nj3jb48andl983n) Every computer will generate a different machine ID when the CERTAS software is loaded. You need to copy this machine ID and email it . Your license key, which will be a sequence of about 31 letters and numbers, will be emailed back to you within one business day (i.e., Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM-6:00 PM EST) It is easiest to copy the sequence from the email to your clipboard, and then paste it into the appropriate field on the start-up screen. The license key you receive will allow you to use CERTAS on the computer from which the machine ID was generated. In other words, license keys are computer-specific, so you will only be able to use the CERTAS software on the computer onto which CERTAS was originally loaded. In order to be able to use it on another computer, you will need to have another license key issued to you.


  1. What is the difference between the Wizard and the Visual Designer, and how do I know which one I should use?
    The Wizard and the Visual Designer both provide you with a way to design your questionnaire. Once you open and name a blank field protocol file so that you can start designing a questionnaire, you will be given the option of do so using the Wizard or the Visual Designer. Most people feel that the Wizard is somewhat easier to use and more straightforward at the beginning, when you are still learning how to use CERTAS. It is similar to Wizards used with other Windows®- based software, such as MS Word® or MS Access®. The Wizard provides more guidance and asks you to make choices regarding the nature and structure of your protocol at each step of the process. It will then put your completed protocol together for you.

    The Visual Designer allows you a bit more freedom and flexibility in designing your questionnaire. You are in charge of building the protocol from scratch by clicking and dragging icons for each piece of the protocol from the “item palette” into a “design window” where a virtual map will show the logical flow of your questionnaire. This method of designing the protocol is a bit easier if you plan to use more complicated branching parameters. (Please note if you start out using the Wizard to design your questionnaire: once you indicate that you have completed designing your questionnaire by clicking on “Finish,” you will see your completed questionnaire in the Visual Designer format. You will need to use the Visual Designer to make any subsequent changes or corrections to your questionnaire).
  2. When I am using the Visual Designer, how can I make the arrows line up and connect with the item boxes the way I want them to?
    The key to using the arrows in the Visual Designer mode is watch the color of the arrows. A black arrow coming from an icon means that it is properly linked to the next icon/question in the sequence. A red arrow coming from an icon means that it is NOT linked to anything, and represents a break in the sequence. It is important for all the arrows to be black in order for the protocol to flow properly. If you have a red arrow, simply click the mouse on the pointed end/head of that arrow and drag the arrow over to the item that should be linked next in the sequence. Once the arrow touches this item, it will turn black. (You can also use this technique to rearrange the order of items in the protocol. Simply drag the item to the place where you want to insert it into the sequence, and then reconnect the arrows to that all the items line up in the proper manner). When you are using the branching feature, you will see two arrows coming out of the same icon. When setting up a branched item, you will can decide what the next step in the protocol will be based on the response the subject gives. Just link this next icon up to the appropriate arrow, and make sure it turns black.
  3. How can I go back and make changes or corrections while I am designing my questionnaire?
    It is very easy to make changes or corrections to parts of your questionnaire that you have already designed. Things you may want to do to revise your questionnaire include adding items, deleting items, moving items, and editing existing items. If you are designing your questionnaire using the Wizard and want to make such changes, simply click on the appropriate buttons provided (such as back, next, delete, etc.) and make whatever changes you desire in the various fields defining each item. Use the following techniques to make changes when using the Visual Designer:
    • Add an item: Select the item you wish to add from the item palette, and drag it down to the designer window. Move the icon to the place where you want to insert it into your questionnaire. Click on the arrow extending out of the item immediately preceding the one you just added, and move it over to the new item so that it turns black and indicates the proper order. Click on the arrow extending out of the newly added item, and line it up with the item you wish to immediately follow, so that this arrow turns black as well.
    • Delete an item: To delete an item, single-click on the item, and then either touch the delete key on the keyboard, or, from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen, select edit, then delete. The selected item will disappear, and the arrow extending from item immediately preceding will turn red. Connect that arrow to the next item in the sequence so that it turns black.
    • Moving an item: There are two ways to move an item to another location in the questionnaire (i.e., to change the order of the items). One way is to simply click and drag the item to the desired location and then line the arrows up to they are all black, and indicate the appropriate order. You can also click on the item you wish to move, cut it to the clipboard by clicking on the scissors icon at the top of the screen, and then paste it (using the clipboard icon at the top of the screen) into the appropriate location. Again, you will need to adjust the arrows so that they represent the proper sequence.
    • Editing an existing item: In order to make changes to one of the items in your questionnaire, simply double-click on the item. The fields for the various parameters which define/describe that item will appear below the designer window. Make any changes you desire, and then click inside the designer window to exit (or double click on another item if you wish to make additional changes). Please note that if you add branching to an item that was not previously branched, you will need to make sure that each new branch is connected to a subsequent item, and that all the branches line up properly (i.e., turn black).
    **It is important to check all arrows after you make any changes in your questionnaire to make sure they are black and flow in the proper direction. It will be helpful to use the validation tool (see next question) to make sure there are no problems with your questionnaire.
  4. Help! I can’t see the entire screen. What happened to the rest of my questionnaire?
    This might seem like a basic issue, but it can be frustrating for some users if they are unable to view portions of the screen as they are navigating the CERTAS program. There are several ways to address this problem, based on the fact that the CERTAS screen operates by the same rules as other Windows®-based programs. The first thing to do is to make sure the primary CERTAS window is maximized (by clicking on the maximization box in the top, right-hand side of the window). Also, remember that you can scroll vertically to see the bottom of the window using the scroll bar on the right-hand side of the screen. Likewise, you can scroll horizontally by moving the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen to the right. Horizontal scrolling is especially important when designing a questionnaire using the Visual Designer because the “map” of your protocol will extend to the right, past the visible edge of the screen. Finally, some components of the CERTAS program launch by opening a new window. You may need to adjust the location of the pop-up window on the screen by clicking on the blue bar at the drop of the window, and dragging it until you can see everything you need.
  5. What do I do if the Validation feature tells me something is wrong with my questionnaire?
    The validation tool automatically checks your questionnaire to see if there are any errors or warnings. Errors refer to problems in the logic or structure of your questionnaire that will result in it failing to execute properly (e.g., red arrows indicating a broken sequence in the questionnaire or failing to add answer choices to a multiple choice item). Errors must be corrected in order for your questionnaire to function. Warnings are elements of your questionnaire which may be undesired or problematic, but which will not prevent the questionnaire from executing (e.g., failing to add text describing an item). The validation feature will open a new window presenting you with a list and brief description of all the errors and warnings found in your questionnaire.


  1. What are “Alert Types” or how do I design my questionnaire if I want it to “launch” when the subjects/patient initiates it, instead of a designated time?
    Alert types refer to the way you choose to schedule your questionnaire to be delivered to the subject. “Alert” refers to the alarm which will sound indicating to the Palm user that are to complete the questionnaire at that time. You have four options for this:
    • No Alert/User Initiated: This option allows the subject to start the questionnaire at any time. This can be used if the questionnaire is event-contingent (e.g., should be completed whenever the subject lights a cigarette, or wakes up in the morning).
    • Scheduled: Scheduled questionnaires are launched at an exact time of day on whichever day(s) of the week you specify, depending on when you want the subject to complete the questionnaire. You can choose as many days or times as you wish.
    • Fixed Interval: You can choose how frequently you wish the subject to complete the questionnaire by selecting a fixed interval between each alert. You can set limits on this interval scheduling by designating that the alerts should only occur on certain days of the week, or between certain hours of the day.
    • Random Interval: Similar to fixed interval except that the interval between alerts is determined randomly by the program. In addition to the scheduling limits you can set for the fixed interval alerts (above), you can select a minimum and maximum length of time for random intervals, as well as a minimum and maximum number of alerts for a given day.
    Once you decide and indicate which of these alerts types you wish to utilize for your questionnaire, click on the “Set Alerts” button. You will need to set up the parameters in to determine the days of the week, times of days, and/or limits you would like to schedule. Simply fill in each of the appropriate fields.
  2. What are “Item Types?”
    “Item Type” refers to the type of question available to add to your protocol. These define how the data will be asked, entered, and recorded. CERTAS provides the following Alert Types:
    • Binary: only two possible answers (e.g., “yes” or “no”)
    • Multiple choice: where the designer designates the text for the responses, as well as the response value (e.g., “Please enter the choice that best describes your location right now: 1. Home; 2. Work; 3. Outdoors; 4. Car; 5. Other)
    • Numeric: the subject’s response must be in number form, where the designer can set limits for acceptable responses (e.g., “Please enter the number of cigarettes you have smoked today.” Limits = min 0, max 100.)
    • Integer Scale: the response takes the form of a integer rating, such as a Likert scale (e.g. “Please rate on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) the severity of the pain you feel right now.”)
    • Visual Analog: allows the subject to move a slider along a horizontal scale with endpoint labels and values determined by the designer (e.g., “Please slide the arrow on following scale to indicate your present level of anxiety, with 0 corresponding to ‘extremely calm’ and 100 corresponding to ‘extremely anxious.’”)
    • Time/Date: the subject’s response must be in the form of a time and/or date (i.e., Thursday, 3/24/05, 17:34:37)
    Although they are not Item Types, when you are using the Visual Designer to design your questionnaire, you will also see “Text” and “End Node” in your item palette. Using a Text icon will allow you to insert text (such as information or instructions) that you want to have the subject read at a certain point in the protocol. An end node is used to indicate the termination of the protocol.
  3. What if I can’t fit the labels I want to use for the endpoints on the scale for a visual analog item type?
    If it is necessary to use labels on the scale that are longer than the allowable number of characters for the endpoints, you could write out the entire label as part of the text field for that item type. In other words, describe the meaning of the endpoints as part of the question, where you have a greater amount of space to include more text. You could then use abbreviations on the actual scale, since the subject would already know the meaning of the labels.
  4. Why do some item types have a field for “limits” and what should I do with them?
    You may want to designate limits on the range of acceptable responses for some items in your protocol. If a subject attempts to enter a response outside the acceptable range, they will be given an error message and asked to re-enter their answer. This can help preserve the integrity of the data you are collecting by preventing typographical errors or other mistakes by the subject. (E.g., You will avoid answers such as age = 253 years, or average # of cigarettes/hour = 60).


  1. How do I make items branch?
    All item types EXCEPT Time/Date and Text allow you to use the branching feature to adapt your questionnaire to the user’s response. This allows your questionnaire to be more specific and interactive so that you can collect more accurate and sophisticated data. Depending on the item type involved, you have a great deal of flexibility in how you set up the branching parameters. To get started using the branching feature, click on the “Advanced” button in the design window. In the window that pops up, click on the box next to “Branch to multiple items depending on the user’s response.” This will allow you to designate the parameters that will lead to specified branches. Each row of parameters within the branching design chart corresponds to one branch; when you have set that branch, click on “Add Branch.” Continue this process until you have set up all the branches you wish to use. You can always eliminate a branch by clicking the “Delete Branch” button. When you are finished setting up your branching scenarios, click “OK” to return to the Visual Designer screen. You can now add subsequent items to link to each of the branches.
  2. Why would I use the “Autolayout” or “Simulate Questionnaire” features?
    As you are designing your questionnaire, especially if you make a lot of changes or include numerous branched items, you may notice that the map of the questionnaire appears crooked or confusing on the screen. The Autolayout feature is used to “straighten it all out” to make the logical flow of your questionnaire clearly indicated. It will not change anything about the questionnaire except for the way it appears in the designer window. To use Autolayout, click on “View” at the top of the screen and select “Autolayout” from the drop-down menu.

    When you have completed designing your questionnaire, you can literally test it on your desktop to see exactly how it will appear as delivered to the subject using a Palm Pilot. The simulation tool will open a new window on your screen where each question will be displayed in sequence. You can answer each question to test the text accuracy, answer choices, branching logic, and response limits. To use the simulation feature, click on “Tools” at the top of your screen and select “Simulate Questionnaire” from the drop-down menu. If you only wish to simulate part of your questionnaire, click on the item in your questionnaire sequence from which you wish to start the simulation. Select “Simulate from here” from the Tool menu and your simulator will display your questionnaire from the point you selected.


  1. How does (do) my questionnaire(s) get from the CERTAS desktop designer to my subjects’ Palm Pilots?
    This is a relatively simple process. You will need to install a program on your desktop that will allow your computer to work with (i.e., establish a compatible interface) the Palm Pilot hardware. This program is included with the Palm Pilot product. You will then use the HotSync feature and syncing cable on the Palm Pilot to load your questionnaires onto the subjects’ Palm Pilots. (**Please follow the detailed instructions on the “Quick Start Guide” to carry out this process). You can load as many different questionnaires as you wish onto each Palm Pilot.
  2. How is the collected data stored once subjects are using my questionnaire in the field?
    All subject responses to the questionnaire(s) loaded onto the Palm Pilot are stored directly in the Palm Pilot memory until the data is uploaded to a desktop database through the Palm hotsync function. It is important to note that if the Palm Pilot battery loses its charge, your questionnaire and all subject data will be erased from the memory. Since it is usually difficult to ensure that all subjects will keep their Palms charged at all times, it is strongly recommended that a memory card (inserted into the top card slot on the Palm Pilot) is used to backup the Palm at regular intervals using an automated backup program. Should the Palm ever lose battery power, all programs and data can be easily restored from the memory card.
  3. Can subjects access new questionnaires or upload the data they have entered via the Internet?
    YES! This is one of the biggest advantages to using the type of electronic data collection that CERTAS provides. As long as the Palm user has Internet access, a hotsync cable, and has installed the Palm interface program on their own PC, they can have their Palm Pilot communicate with your website. This means they can upload stored data from their Palm to your remote database, or they can download programs or files (e.g., new questionnaires you have created) from your website to their Palm Pilot. All these functions are executed using the Hotsync feature on the Palm Pilot.


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If your troubleshooting efforts do not produce the answer you are looking for, we are happy to provide personalized technical support. Please send us an email with as much information as possible so we can properly assist you. If you would rather speak to a representitive, please call 703-758-1400. We are open Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, EST. If you leave a message, please provide us with as much detail about the problem you are having. One of our agents will assist you as soon as possible.