Numerous methods for reading abnormalities of rheumatoid arthritis in hand and wrist radiographs have been proposed over the past several decades. There are many differences among these methods, one of the more striking of which is the variation in the number of joints that are scored. In this study, we tested the number of joints that need to be read in order to represent abnormalities accurately and reproducibly, using the scores of multiple observers. Thirteen rheumatologists and radiologists each read a set of 41 hand and wrist films from patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Ten of 13 readers scored 27 joints in each hand and wrist; the other 3 readers scored fewer areas. Fourteen combinations of joints were selected based on the frequency of involvement and the technical adequacy of routine films in assessing a given area. After testing these 14 different combinations, 1 scheme, which included 17 areas read for erosions and 18 areas read for joint space narrowing, was tested further. The correlation coefficients for 10 intraobserver scores derived from this modified scheme compared with the original scores were between 0.981 and 0.997. Seventy-one of 78 interobserver comparisons were better using the new scheme than using the original scheme. These data indicate that the simplified scheme, using a combination of 17 joints to score erosions and 18 to score joint space narrowing, more accurately reflects the extent of abnormalities perceived by a panel of experts than does the original scheme. This abbreviated number of joints shortens the amount of time required to read a set of films and simplifies the scoring of films, since a number of areas that are difficult to read are eliminated from radiographic assessment.