At the request of the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado, the authors prepared and presented a lecture series to the students of a graduate level advanced instrumental analysis class. The slides and text presented in this report are a compilation and condensation of this series of lectures. The purpose of this report is to present the slides and notes and to emphasize the thought processes that should be used by a scientist submitting samples for analyses in order to procure analytical data to answer a research question. First and foremost, the analytical data generated can be no better than the samples submitted. The questions to be answered must first be well defined and the appropriate samples collected from the population that will answer the question. The proper methods of analysis, including proper sample preparation and digestion techniques, must then be applied. Care must be taken to achieve the required limits of detection of the critical analytes to yield detectable analyte concentration (above "action" levels) for the majority of the study's samples and to address what portion of those analytes answer the research question-total or partial concentrations. To guarantee a robust analytical result that answers the research question(s), a well-defined quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) plan must be employed. This QA/QC plan must include the collection and analysis of field and laboratory blanks, sample duplicates, and matrix-matched standard reference materials (SRMs). The proper SRMs may include in-house materials and/or a selection of widely available commercial materials. A discussion of the preparation and applicability of in-house reference materials is also presented. Only when all these analytical issues are sufficiently addressed can the research questions be answered with known certainty.