By far the best way of understanding the ecology of a habitat is to investigate it for yourself. In order to gain maximum benefit from ecological studies it is important to plan in advance. Part of the planning is to be sure of the questions to be asked or problems to be solved; the most elegant research tends to ask simple questions or look at simple problems. Prior planning also includes identifying the methods for data analysis (see below). Equipment should be checked and the experimenter should be fully competent in its use before gathering data. A consistent approach, using the same techniques and only varying the factor to be analysed, is usually best. Often a small pilot study will help the main investigation to run smoothly and will allow the methods to be refined.