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|GENERAL INTRODUCTION Sample collection, preparation and analysis are all steps in a single process designed to provide information about a much larger amount of material than the sample itself. For example, information about the ash content of a unit train load of coal may be derived from a single, relatively small sample of perhaps a few hundred pounds (liters) extracted from the entire shipment. These three steps can be thought of as links in a chain, allowing the simple analogy that the strength of the chain, or, in other words, the value of the information is only as strong as the weakest link. Sample collection, discussed in Part 1 of this chapter, is critical because analytical procedures can do no more than reveal the characteristics of the sample presented to the laboratory. If that sample does not properly represent the population to be characterized, neither will the analysis of that sample. Sample preparation is also a critical part of the chain. Any change in the nature of a sample between the time it is collected and the time it is analyzed will appear to reflect the nature of the population. For example, sample preparation procedures that allow air to partially dry the coal sample before reaching the laboratory will cause the sample analysis to indicate a lower moisture content than the sample originally had. Other changes can be more subtle. Second only to moisture loss, oxidation reactions generally cause the greatest problems. Oxidation of a coal sample can alter surface properties, changing flotation response. In extreme cases, combustion parameters, such as caking or agglomerating properties or mineral composition, such as pyrite content, can change. Water samples can also be altered by oxidation. For example, ferrous iron can oxidize to ferric iron, possibly changing water quality parameters such as pH. Sample analysis, the subject of Part 2 of this chapter, is the final link in the chain. Obviously, no laboratory procedure can correct for problems created by improper sample collection and preparation. At the same time, poor analytical techniques will create incorrect information about the total amount of coal from which the sample was extracted (the population) in the same manner as improper sample collection and preparation. The key to gaining correct information about the population is to view these three steps as parts of a single process. Following proper techniques through only one or two steps of the process will not produce accurate information.|