Although chemical and biological monitoring is often used to evaluate the quality of surface waters for regulatory purposes and/or to evaluate environmental status and trends, the resulting biological and chemical data sets are large and difficult to evaluate. Multivariate techniques have long been used to analyse complex data sets. This paper discusses the methods currently in use and introduces the principal response curves method, which overcomes the problem of cluttered graphical results representation that is a great drawback of most conventional methods. To illustrate this, two example data sets are analysed using two ordination techniques, principal component analysis and principal response curves. Whereas PCA results in a difficult-to-interpret diagram, principal response curves related methods are able to show changes in community composition in a diagram that is easy to read. The principal response curves method is used to show trends over time with an internal reference (overall mean or reference year) or external reference (e.g. preferred water quality or reference site). Advantages and disadvantages of both methods are discussed and illustrated.