What are the Best Practices for Adding Observation Field Options to Observations?

I’ve been using iNat relatively consistently since 2019, but I’m only now just starting to dig into some of its more “advanced” features, namely the Observation Fields options. I’ve been looking for information in which to help me better understand this feature, but haven’t yet found anything definitive. Let me know if this topic has already been covered. I couldn’t find anything obvious here on the forums, though.

I don’t necessarily want to include a million different observation field options for each observation I submit. However, there are some that I’d like to use routinely such as “count of individuals” (for birds) and “associated observations” (when I find multiple species sharing some sort of interaction). I’ve also started to use the “track or sign” option when I find bear tracks in the snow, for example. So I have a rudimentary understanding of how to go about adding them.

I’m just wondering if there’s a top ten list, for example, of the most useful Observation Field options. When I searched for a list of Observations Fields options there were literally hundreds of webpages with each containing 10+ options on each of those pages!

And it looked like many had redundant options. For example, when I searched for “# of” the following options appeared (not including the dozen other options that use the #):

  1. (hashtag) # of individuals?
  2. estimated # of individuals
  3. (hashtag) # of birds
  4. (hashtag) # of bird
  5. Total # of individuals
  6. (hashtag) # of individuals

The “# of individuals?” versus “# of individuals” and “# of birds” versus “# of bird” reminds me of Instagram hashtags where they mean the same thing but have their own separate place/thread (and are ultimately unrelated). Are any of those actually useful if everyone is documenting them differently, despite their similarity?

Anyway, if you have any feedback about establishing a logical and useful workflow to incorporate observation field options into observations I’m all ears :)

p.s. Funny, the hashtag on the list doesn’t show up when its at the front of the text.

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You can see this page from iNaturalist NZ. They list there their favourite fields that are commonly used throughout iNaturalist NZ.

I think this is a good solution. There is no definitive criterion valid for everyone, only recommended practices based on the interests of a particular group.


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The fieldspace is a free for all, in that it is not regulated. To counter the very issue you raise (consistency for regular more useful fields) iNat implemented the annotations, and then tied the many incarnations of eac field appropriately. For example, the many sex fields (gender, m/f, M/F, male/female, sex, etc) all now tie into the sex annotation. The annotations themselves are heavily regulated, with control in their form handled by iNat staff/developers.

This two-fold approach of fields and annotations is very powerful, in that we still retain the complete flexibility of the old field system for handling any type of added data that suits a specific project, but we gain through annotations the standardisation desired for the more common/useful ones.

As to which fields to use? It largely comes down to what you or those you interact with in iNat actually want or need from the data!


If it helps, all the available observation fields are listed here:
You can click on each and see how many observations use that field, or at least you can see how many pages of observations use that field.

I’m pretty sure I saw a breakdown of the most frequently used (and least used) observation fields, possibly in a discussion that involved some people wanting to clean them up a bit. That was some time ago, and of course I can’t find that now.

I’ve been looking for an observation field to use for beetle “nests” in wood or under bark, and I think I’ll have to just use the standard Animal Sign and Song and/or How was this Detected?. Unless someone sees this post and suggests a better (or additional) option!

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You can add your own fields!

I imagine a field named “aggregation” would work (if it doesn’t exist then just create it) or perhaps more implicit wording such as “beetle nest” with perhaps a list of types of location as allowable values, such as “under wood”


Thanks for the list, Daniel :)

I’ll definitely take a closer look at it as I start to add more Obs Fields. I kind of figured that there wasn’t one specific protocol based on so many options, but I like the idea of refining certain options down for specific species.

Again, thanks for the feedback!

Thanks so much for the clarification!

I was wondering if that was somehow factored into the system. That is, grouping related field options so that they output in a uniform way/value, but still allow for a person to input/document them in their own unique way.

Thanks again for the feedback. I’ll probably just use some basic options at first and be consistent about that aspect. And, what I appreciate is that the observation field options that I’ve previously used appear to be featured prominently when I go to add something in the field (i.e. the dropdown menu when adding an annotation). Very cool stuff!

Thanks, Julie!,

I appreciate the help. Yeah, I’ve looked through that link with all of the fields. Holy cats! That list is overwhelming. haha. But I’ll keep searching for that “most frequently used” thread. Seems promising.

Realistically, I’ll probably end up consistently using only a few of them in the long run. I just was feeling like I didn’t get the memo regarding their implementation. Seems like it has the potential to be a bit more useful than just isolating some of those data-related items in the description box with the obs.

Thanks again for the feedback!

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