Tips for Making iNaturalist Observations

(these are a mix of things I do and things I aspire to do)

  • Finding people that you respect or who interest you on iNaturalist and study their observations. It's amazing how much you can learn about making observations by observing the observations of others (boy that's a tongue-twister).
  • Make sure your photo is cropped in closely to the subject. It makes it easier for others to help you identify it. Closely cropped photos usually look better and are almost always are easier to identify by. Basic, safe, useful cropping mechanisms are now built into Windows, available in free open source software, and are even available on smartphones! There are no excuses (except perhaps that the iNaturalist app doesn't let you crop :->)
  • Learning photography (especially lighting, lighting, lighting) is huge. Continue to study it!
  • A common mistake made on observations is entering a name in "place of observation", but not hitting enter. This will result in your observation not being attached to any particular location and will guarantee that it will go to "Research Level".
  • The vast majority of people making IDs are very friendly, don't be shy to ask them for help, even if it is via a private message. Most are very eager to help in whatever way they can.
  • Be patient. Even though your chance of getting an ID does decrease as the age of your sighting increases, you will receive random IDs as time goes on and people continue to search for unidentified stuff and new people join the site, etc.
  • There is a great mix of levels of expertise on here. So do be careful about assuming others are necessarily right. Many of them may have different areas of expertise or live in different areas and may not be familiar with the fauna and flora in your area.
  • On the flip side, be humble and willing to learn. Don't take disagreement or questioning as a personal attack!
  • If you are going to take the time to report your sightings, you might as well get them in as many projects as you can. Look for projects in which you can put add your sightings to. (If you see snails, snakes, spiders, ferns, dragonflies, or damselflies in Ontario, Canada, I've made projects for them, by the way)
  • Unless you have a strong reason not to, make sure that your iNaturalist settings allow others to add your observations to projects. This lets others do that work for you and it is also a great way to discover new projects.
  • Include as much contextual information as you can--magnification level, environment, habitat, etc.
  • The specificity of the identification you make (when you are not certain) can have ramifications on your liklyhood of getting an ID, but the choice isn't always clear. There is a good case to be made for erring on the less specific side. Some identifiers may be hesitant to pick the genus (when that's all they can vouch for) if you have nailed it to a species, since it will be essentially a vote against your ID. So in some cases they won't even chime in. Whereas if you just put the genus, they might be more eager to jump in. That said, on the flip side, we need to be bold and try to move identifications forward, and so there is also a strong case for going out on a limb and letting others correct you. You may learn more that way in many cases.
  • Don't be shy to make observations. There is no need to save your observations for the most significant things you find. For the most part, we are aggregating data for future use. Let the "future you" or someone else decide what is useful. You can always prune stuff later if you feel it is just "noise".

That's all for now from my limited and amateur perspective. I'd be interested to hear others chime in.

Posted on February 05, 2016 12:19 PM by marknenadov marknenadov


Thanks for putting this together mark! Lots of good tips for new and experienced users.

I definitely agree that adding good quality photos will help you get an ID, and its just easier on everyone's eyes and contributes to making this a quality site. Cropping is your friend everyone!

And yes, please be kind to others. I'm still learning how to use this site. Kindness and gentle suggestions work well.

And lastly, tell your friends about this site!

Posted by leannewallis over 8 years ago

Thanks for your comments as well, @leannewallisbiologist

Posted by marknenadov over 8 years ago

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments