Renumbering DELTA character lists

Mike Dallwitz miked at ENTO.CSIRO.AU
Thu Nov 17 12:22:11 CST 1994

                                                               17 November 1994

> In the process of using the Delta program for my revision of
> Dracontium, I have to frequently modify the chars file by adding,
> removing, or changing sequencing of characters. After each
> modification, I have to renumber every character after the
> correction. Doing it one by one is really time consuming and it
> is easy to make more mistakes. I asked Hong Song, a computer
> expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, to write a renumbering
> program [RENUM] to do the job.
> Guanghua Zhu <zhu at>

This program works well, but perhaps ought to carry a `data health' warning.
Building up a good DELTA character list in isolation from its intended
applications is difficult for an experienced user, and almost impossible for a

The first problem is avoiding errors in the syntax (which is not checked by
RENUM). A misunderstanding of the syntax (such as omitting a delimiter) could
lead to the same kind of error occurring hundreds of times in a long character
list, and the need for extensive editing.

Syntax errors, while looming large for the beginner, are trivial and relatively
easily fixed. The difficult part of constructing a character list is optimizing
the wording and taxonomic content. It is extremely difficult to foresee how
these will impinge on various applications. If problems are not detected early
in the process (particularly before large amounts of data have been entered),
the necessary revisions can be very time-consuming.

The recommended procedure for building up a DELTA data set is as follows.
First, construct a fairly short character list, say 5-10 characters including
examples of all character types, and a corresponding specifications file.
(Experienced users can safely use a much larger list at this stage.) Check this
list by running it through CONFOR. Next enter and check data for 2 or 3 taxa.
Then try these data with ALL of the intended applications, e.g. generation of
natural-language descriptions, generation of printed keys, cladistic and
phenetic analyses, interactive identification and information retrieval. Then
add a few more characters and taxa, and repeat the trials. If it is your first
attempt at using the DELTA programs, it would be wise to ask a more experienced
user (who need not have any knowledge of your subject matter) to comment on the
data and the products at an early stage.

The RENUM program is of little or no use in this process, as it does not
renumber the other data and directives files (ITEMS, SPECS, TONAT, KEY,
INTKEY.INI, etc.) The necessary procedures are described in Section 11 of the
DELTA Primer.

It is very important NOT to build up a data set while testing only one
application, such as generation of natural-language descriptions, with the
intention of doing the others when the data are complete. Doing so almost
always leads to poor results, and the need for extensive revision. A related
problem is postponing the specification of character dependencies until the
data are complete. We have seen so many disasters arising from this that (at
the suggestion of Leslie Watson) the next version of CONFOR will give a warning
if there are more than 20 characters and dependencies have not been specified.

Mike Dallwitz                                  Internet md at
CSIRO Division of Entomology                   Fax +61 6 246 4000
GPO Box 1700, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia     Phone +61 6 246 4075

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