What do you wish people knew about DQA/Annotations

I am putting together a training I’m calling Intermediate iNaturalist: How to make your observations more useful to science. Part of the training will be dedicated to understanding and using DQA and Annotations.

Other than the fact that these features exist, what do you wish people knew about them?


“Organism is wild” or “Evidence of Organism” are big ones for me, especially the wild one. It is absolutely crazy how many clearly captive/cultivated reports go unnoticed because there is basically no tutorial for new users.


That the annotaton “Plant phenology: fruiting” for plants, is to indicate whether the plant is actively growing fruit on the plant at the time of the observation.

Lots of people (including me when I first joined) assume it is just asking “is this plant capable of fruiting”.

So, the fruiting annotation should only be applied when there is still fruit on the tree, either actively growing still, or hanging on over winter, not if all the fruit has fallen already, or just in general because you know the tree has fruited before.

This way when the plant phenology graph gets filled out for the species, you can see when the fruit stops growing.


While filling out annotations for whether a plant is currently flowering or fruiting is very useful, people should usually avoid filling out the “sex” annotation for flowering plants, because than answer is almost always “yes”, which isn’t an option. The vast majority of plants make both male and female reproductive parts, either in the same flower or at least on the same individual, and so can’t be categorized as male individuals or female individuals. Having fruit on a plant doesn’t necessarily make it female, because the male parts were probably in the flowers, which then fall off during the fruiting process. So-- don’t apply zoological biases to unsuspecting angiosperms!! :)


Something that goes unnoticed all too often is the “No, it’s as good as can be” box in the DQA. If a the community taxon is as narrow as can be, check off the box! I see too many complexes and subgenera that aren’t research grade because they don’t use it.


That the annotation ‘Sex: cannot be determined’ means that it genuinely cannot be determined because the evidence is insufficient, not that you cannot determine it. If you don’t know how to sex it just don’t select anything.

Also that people cannot outvote your annotation, so if someone lets you know it’s wrong you have to correct or withdraw it.


For the plant sex annotation - a gentle tactful way to explain to non-botanists that iNat isn’t the gender police. I’m lost for words to explain to people - when iNat offers the plant sex annotation which does NOT apply to this (most) species - that iNat is not requesting the gender of the observer.

Little bit easier to explain if they are hiking here as we have leucadendrons and restios to explain with. But for most of our plants. Does not apply!

For fruiting - the picture should show actual fruit (but if you filter photos for fruiting that annotation applies to ALL the photos in that obs - since we sadly can’t annotate individual photos)

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I’d remind people that they can mouseover most annotation values and see its definition:

Also, remind them that they don’t need to annotate anything if it’s not a good fit or they don’t have the evidence or knowledge to annotate it. Just because something is not filled out does not mean it needs to be filled out.

As for DQA, they should click on the “i” icon:

It explains the DQA categories in more detail. Not perfect, but it’s something they should read and refer to.

Finally, a lot of people say they use the DQA to make something casual, but I don’t think that’s a good way to think about it. Yes, the votes there can make an observation casual grade, but that shouldn’t be one’s end goal. The goal is to accurately assess the data quality/relevance of the observation. The system then follows that assessment.


I often use it to make observations Research Grade. It’s already been mentioned above, but the “it’s as good as can be” box can be used to turn observations of apomictic complexes that sometimes have dozens of agreeing IDs out of the “needs ID” limbo and into research grade.

However, I feel it sometimes gets misused by people who think that, just because they can’t identify something, nobody can.


I think that the issue related to DQA/annotations is tightly linked to the awareness about what iNat really is.
If someone take iNat just as a little game to spend some time, it is likely that he will not take so much attention to DQA/annotations.
Apart this, it would be desirable that as many users as possible would simply understand that those DQA options are there on purpose and their purpose is to be used properly.

I suspect that’s not so much down to ignorance of the feature, or even laziness to use it, but rather lack of self-confidence. There’s lots of species that I know I can’t identify beyond family or genus, but I’m also conscious that I am far from being an expert on any of those groups so I always have the feeling that there may be some top specialists out there who can get the ID more specific. So, unless I happen to know the world authority on that particular group and have their assurance that finer ID is impossible from a photograph, I always feel very reluctant to declare that the ID is as good as it can be. Given that most people are not experts on most things, I should think this is a very widespread feeling.


For insects and other animals that go through dramatic metamorphoses, please mark the Life Stage. Since IDing the immature stages and the adults are two separate skills, marking this will ensure the observation winds up in front of the right identifiers, especially if it’s of an immature stage, which are usually submitted less frequently than adults. I’ve come across a few people with tons of great caterpillar observations that I and a lot of the other caterpillar IDers missed because they didn’t annotate them as Life Stage = Larva.

If the observation is of an adult, the annotation may be less necessary to get a good ID, but it will still be helpful for anyone who’s looking for photos of non-adult life stages.


I’ve noticed what seems to be a lot of confusion about the insects, spiders, or other critters people have seen in gardens or houses. I’ve found many that have been marked as “not wild” by the observer, so are casual and never get IDs.


If there’s time to talk about flowering plants, consider focusing on “no evidence of flowering” (at least, that’s what I do). Once a person understands that the others are “yes evidence of flowering”, and that the options are not exhaustive, the rest is gravy :-)

PS. the interface should encourage this:

  • Evidence of flowering?
    • No
    • Yes
      • Budding
      • Flowering
      • Fruiting
      • Other

The latter is mysteriously missing in the interface.

That a plant can be budding, flowering and fruiting at the same time, and mix and match all of those, and iNat is capable of registering that.


I wished people would take note that “not wild” on iNat means “Captive/Cultivated” and should only be used for captive or cultivated organisms and not things like rocks, plastic dinosaurs, man-made structures such as road signs, artwork, scenery and cityscapes, screenshots of a computer/cell phone with a picture etc. On pretty much all other pages except for DQA the checkbox for this is asking “Captive/Cultivated?” and you mark it in the positive yes. On the DQA it’s “Organisms is wild” and you mark it in the negative no.

That gets confusing apparently and I wished it was kept more consistent. There are a lot of things that are “not wild” that do not overlap with the “captive/cultivated” category. The key word in this is “organism” - if it’s not an organism it should not be marked not wild. Also, all observations ID’d as human will automatically be casual, so there is no need to use any of the DQA boxes to “make it casual” as some people are doing by marking them captive. Most humans are not captive unless you’re photographing inmates in jail or similar. Human artifacts like trash, cars, toys, jewelry etc. are not organisms at all and therefore can’t be “captive/cultivated” in the way I understand this was intended to be used.


Personally, I don’t really like that annotation as it messed up the projects I had set up to capture plants in their reproductive phase. It’s currently not possible to choose only some or exclude a particular annotation when pulling observations for a project, it’s all or nothing for plant phenology. So instead of having one project, one would need three projects (one for budding, one for flowering, one for fruiting) and use an umbrella project to combine them. That means having to set up four projects instead of one. I’m not a fan of that.

Yes, and you can even add in “no evidence of flowering” which then contradicts all the others - another reason why I’m not particularly fond of how that is set up on iNat right now.

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There is the option to down-vote an annotation, but it does not currently allow for correcting a wrong annotation. E.g. if someone annotated an animal as male and it turns out to be wrong, others can down vote male but having the annotation there prevents adding an annotation for female. Only the original observer or the person who made the annotation (if they are different people) can delete or correct a wrong annotation. There is no notification generated when someone down-votes your annotation, so to increase chances of these being corrected it helps to add a comment on the observation and tag the person who made the annotation.


Unless something has changed recently, that is not true. If “no evidence of flowering” is checked, all other options become unavailable. Conversely, if one of the other options is checked, “no evidence of flowering” becomes unavailable. In other words, a user needs to understand “no evidence of flowering” to master the user interface.

For beginners, it’s best to ask the question: Is there evidence of flowering or not? All else follows from that yes/no question.

Ah, I see - I wasn’t aware of that option being exclusive of the others. I don’t really use it since it annoyed me when it started messing up my projects. I hope the option to either add more than one annotation value or exclude a particular value will be added to project rules, but not a whole lot of folks voted on that feature request.