So far there has been two answers:
1) A wordy and a bit confusing text book reply tailored more towards Gas Chromatography.
The size of a spectral peak is proportional to the amount of the substance that reaches the detector in the GC instrument. No detector responds equally to different compounds. Results using one detector will probably differ from results obtained using another detector. Therefore, comparing analytical results to tabulated experimental data using a different detector does not provide a reliable identification of the specimen.
A “response factor” must be calculated for each substance with a particular detector. A response factor is obtained experimentally by analyzing a known quantity of the substance into the GC instrument and measuring the area of the relevant peak. The experimental conditions (temperature, pressure, carrier gas flow rate) must be identical to those used to analyze the specimen. The response factor equals the area of the spectral peak divided by the weight or volume of the substance injected. If the technician applies the proper technique, of running a standard sample before and after running the specimen, determining a response factor is not necessary.
2) This cute answer is from “Alright22” who obviously had “hands-on” experience with chromatography – thin-layer chromatography of M&M candies.
It depends on the experiment. If you rub a green m & m into a solvent and place the filter into the solvent, the dye used to make the green will soak into the filter into bars of yellow and blue, and thus you will prove they are using yellow and blue dye to make green tints on m & ms. The response factor may be how quickly the result appears, or how much evidence is revealed, or how long the experiment will take.
So far these are all the answers received. Let’s see if anybody else would shine more light on the response factor in chromatography.