There are three main parameters that are helpful to consider in choosing an environmental monitoring method. The methods you choose should produce meaningful data, fit within your budget, and help you answer your question efficiently (for other information on study design see this page).
You can use questions below to help you explore if the method you are considering is a good fit for you.
A Meaningful Method:
- Does it help you answer your question?
- Make sure you're choosing a monitoring method that helps you to answer your specific question. (Tools can be great, but if they're not helping you get to the heart of the issue, you probably need to consider another avenue.)
- Is it simple?
- Keeping things simple will make it easier for others to understand, and easier for you to repeat.
- Does it follow a clear pathway for each step (how to do the monitoring, how to produce the data, and how to process the data)?
- If your data is hard to attain, or if it is unclear in how it was produced, it can be difficult for others to trust, understand, and replicate your process.
- Does it produce data that you, and your target audience can understand?
- If you need to process or change your data so that you or others can understand what it means, make sure you know that ahead of time, and make sure that the data you will end up with will be clear and understandable for others.
TIP:: Open source tools can be really useful in helping to make sure process for how data is made is clear.
An Affordable Method:
- Does this method for monitoring fit within your budget?
- How many times will you (or others) need to do this type of monitoring to get the answers you need?
- In accounting for cost, you should think about how many times you'll need to monitor, and how much it costs to monitor each time.
- If you don't get the results you want the first time around monitoring, will you be able to do it again?
- There can be a lot of things that go wrong in monitoring from faulty equipment to unclear results that require you to collect data more times than you expect. Be sure to budget extra incase you need to repeat your processes or replace any of your equipment.
- Will other people need to be able to do this?
- If your method for monitoring is expensive it will be harder for others to replicate.
An Efficient Method:
- How much time do you have to work on this question?
- Will you get the data you need in this amount of time?
- Sometimes monitoring methods can produce the right "kind" of data, but you don't have enough time to collect enough of it, make sure you match your time demands with the right method for collecting data.
- How much time will it take you to collect and analyze this data?
- Will you need help from others to do this monitoring?
- Sometimes it is valuable to choose a monitoring method that you can carry out on your own. That way you don't need to rely on other people to get the work done in your project. Other times it's helpful to divide up the work so that different people hold different responsibilities of the project. Make sure you're choosing the method that matches your own need for group or independent work.
- Will others need or want to see your data?
- If so, make sure they can get it with your monitoring method. Often if people can't get ahold of the data, it's harder for them to trust your results.
Looking for a worksheet on this material?
Check out this PDF:Monitoring_Method_Worksheet.pdf
Also available on google docs here