This document is the result of a workshop on coal description held for the Branch of Coal Resources of the U.S. Geological Survey in March 1982. It has been prepared to aid and encourage the field-oriented coal scientist to participate directly in petrographic coal-description activities. The objectives and past and current practices of coal description vary widely. These are briefly reviewed and illustrated with examples. Sampling approaches and techniques for collecting columnar samples of fresh coal are also discussed. The recommended procedures and methodology emphasize the fact that obtaining a good megascopic description of a coal bed is much better done in the laboratory with a binocular microscope and under good lighting conditions after the samples have been cut and quickly prepared. For better observation and cross-checking using a petrographic microscope for identification purposes, an in-place polishing procedure (requiring less than 2 min) is routinely used. Methods for using both the petrographic microscope and an automated image analysis system are also included for geologists who have access to such instruments. To describe the material characteristics of a coal bed in terms of microlithotypes or lithotypes, a new nomenclature of (V), (E), (1), (M). (S). (X1). (X2) and so on is used. The microscopic description of the modal composition of a megascopically observed lithologic type is expressed in terms of (VEIM); subscripts are used to denote the volume percentage of each constituent present. To describe a coal-bed profile, semiquantitative data (without microscopic study) and quantitative data (with microscopic study) are presented in ready-to-understand form. The average total composition of any thickness interval or of the entire coal bed can be plotted on a triangular diagram having V, E, and I+ M +S as the apices. The modal composition of any mixed lithologies such as (X1), (X2), and so on can also be plotted on such a triangular ternary diagram. Such diagrams can be used either for tracing compositional variations throughout a single coal-bed profile or for comparing variations between different coal beds.