Each patient's pain experience is uniquely his or her own. Standardized pain assessment methodologies and procedures provide a window to this experience and constitute a necessary first step to our understanding of pain, in both clinical and research settings. All too often, emergency department pain assessment is cursory--performed more to satisfy regulatory requirements than to guide our therapies or evaluate our practices. This article provides information on a number of assessment techniques that are appropriate for clinical and research use. Their use should inform our practice and lead to continuous improvements in our management of pain.