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Use appropriate field delimiters

Delimit the columns within a data table using commas or tabs; these are listed in order of preference. Semicolons are used in many systems as line end delimiters and may cause problems if data are imported into those systems (e.g. SAS, PHP scripts). Avoid delimiters that also occur in the data fields. If this cannot be avoided, enclose data fields that also contain a delimiter in single or double quotes.

An example of a consistently delimited data file with a header row:

Use consistent codes

Be consistent in the use of codes to indicate categorical variables, for example species names, sites, or land cover types. Codes should always be the same within one data set Pay particular attention to spelling and case; most frequent problems are with abbreviations for species names and sites.

Consistent codes can be achieved most easily by defining standard categorical variables (codes) and using drop down lists (excel, database). Frequently a code is needed for ‘none of the above’ or ‘unknown’ or ‘other’ to avoid imprecise code assignment.

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