This manuscript highlights numerous incremental improvements in dissolved lignin measurements over the nearly three decades since CuO oxidation of lignin phenols was first adapted for environmental samples. Intercomparison of the recovery efficiency of three common lignin phenol concentration and isolation techniques, namely XAD, C18 with both CH3OH (C18M) and CH3CN (C18A) used independently for priming and elution steps, and tangential flow filtration (TFF) for a range of aquatic samples including fresh, estuarine and marine waters, was undertaken. With freshwater samples XAD8-1, C18M and TFF were all observed to recover ca. 80-90% of the lignin phenols and showed no fractionation effects with respect to diagnostic lignin parameters. With estuarine and marine samples more lignin phenols were recovered with C18M and XAD8-1 than TFF because of the increased prevalence of low molecular weight lignin phenols in marine influenced samples. For marine systems, differences were also observed between diagnostic lignin parameters isolated via TFF vs. C18M and XAD8-1 as a result of the high molecular weight lignin phenols being less degraded than the bulk. Therefore, it is recommended for future studies of marine systems that only one technique is utilized for ease of intercomparison within studies. It is suggested that for studies solely aimed at recovering bulk dissolved lignin in marine environments that C18M and XAD8-1 appear to be more suitable than TFF as they recover more lignin. Our results highlight that, for freshwater samples, all three common lignin phenol concentration and isolation techniques are comparable to whole water concentrated by rotary evaporation (i.e. not isolated) but, that for marine systems, the choice of concentration and isolation techniques needs to be taken into consideration with respect to both lignin concentration and diagnostic parameters. Finally, as the study highlights XAD8-1 to be a suitable method for the isolation of dissolved lignin phenols from aquatic systems (statistically indistinguishable from C18M, P < 0.1), lignin data representative of whole waters can be produced for IHSS reference materials or other XAD sample archives. ?? 2010 Elsevier Ltd.