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First, contrary to the single-ring-per-year paradigm, alternating poor and favorable conditions, such as mid-summer droughts, can result in several rings forming in a given year.

In addition, particular tree-species may present "missing rings", and this influences the selection of trees for study of long time-spans.

It is also used as a check in radiocarbon dating to calibrate radiocarbon ages.

New growth in trees occurs in a layer of cells near the bark.

To eliminate individual variations in tree-ring growth, dendrochronologists take the smoothed average of the tree-ring widths of multiple tree-samples to build up a ring history, a process termed replication.

A tree-ring history whose beginning- and end-dates are not known is called a floating chronology.

A tree's growth rate changes in a predictable pattern throughout the year in response to seasonal climate changes, resulting in visible growth rings.

Critical to the science, trees from the same region tend to develop the same patterns of ring widths for a given period of chronological study.Adequate moisture and a long growing season result in a wide ring, while a drought year may result in a very narrow one.Direct reading of tree ring chronologies is a complex science, for several reasons.Researchers can compare and match these patterns ring-for-ring with patterns from trees which have grown at the same time in the same geographical zone (and therefore under similar climatic conditions).When one can match these tree-ring patterns across successive trees in the same locale, in overlapping fashion, chronologies can be built up—both for entire geographical regions and for sub-regions.

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As well as dating them this can give data for dendroclimatology, the study of climate and atmospheric conditions during different periods in history from wood.