Certain deterministic non-linear systems may show chaotic behaviour. Time series derived from such systems seem stochastic when analyzed with linear techniques. However, uncovering the deterministic structure is important because it allows constructing more realistic and better models and thus improved predictive capabilities. This paper provides a review of two main key features of chaotic systems, the dimensions of their strange attractors and the Lyapunov exponents. The emphasis is on state space reconstruction techniques that are used to estimate these properties, given scalar observations. Data generated from equations known to display chaotic behaviour are used for illustration. A compilation of applications to real data fromwidely different fields is given. If chaos is found to be present, one may proceed to build non-linear models, which is the topic of the second paper in this series.