Confidence and keys

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Wed Jun 14 09:16:09 CDT 1995

I take exception, from personal experience, with the view that keys are
written for the writer, not the user.  When I completed my draft for part
of the oaks for Flora North America, the key was what I thought would
work.  Numerous reviewers provided constructive criticisms that allowed
me to modify the key extensively, always with the idea that it must be
written for use by someone who doesn't know the taxa as well as I do.  In
fact, for the taxa covered, I don't need a key - I can examine specimens
and make determinations based on my own experience and knowledge.  Most
potential users aren't familiar with all of the taxa and need a key to
help them sort things out.

I recognize that as the number of taxa increases I must rely less on my
personal databank and more on an information retrieval system - e.g., a
key.  But, for restricted taxonomic groups (i.e., small number of
well-circumscribed taxa), the experienced taxonomist probably does not
rely on a key.

Richard J. Jensen      |   E-MAIL: rjensen at
Dept. of Biology       |   TELEPHONE: 219-284-4674
Saint Mary's College   |   FAX: 219-284-4716
Notre Dame, IN  46556  |

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