The use of handheld computers such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) represents a feasible method of automating the transfer of files to computers for archiving and statistical analysis. Data collected using the PDA can be transferred directly to a database program on a desktop computer, virtually eliminating errors associated with the reentry of manually collected data. These devices are highly portable and can be housed in protective cases, enabling data collection even in inclement environments. The availability of handheld database programs that permit the development of electronic forms further makes the PDA a viable data collection platform for scientific research. These database applications not only allow novice users to develop customized forms that facilitate the recording of alphanumeric data; these applications also synchronize directly with current desktop-based database and spread-sheet applications. We used Microsoft Access database tables, along with Visual CE, a PocketPC database application, to generate electronic forms for collecting data from research trials conducted in 2003. To facilitate comparison with manual data collection, we also recorded observations using “pen and paper” methods. We found no differences between both methods in the length of time required to enter observations. However, the PDA transferred the data to a computer 600% faster relative to the manual reentry method. Using the handheld computer, field data was immediately available for compilation and statistical analysis within minutes of completing the data gathering process, at the same time ensuring the integrity and continuity of the files.
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