A detailed study of electron plasma waves observed upstream of the earth’s bow shock and of their relationships to the position of the satellite in the foreshock and to the electron measurements has been carried out. The wave characteristics depend on the position in the electron foreshock: a narrow-band (a few percent) and intense (a few millivolts per meter) noise is observed at the plasma frequency at the edge of the foreshock while the spectrum widens (Δf/f ≃ 0.3) at the same time as the power decreases (hundreds of microvolts per meter) deeper (a few earth radii) inside the foreshock. Signals below the plasma frequency are also observed. These waves are polarized along the magnetic field, with long wavelengths below and at the plasma frequency and short wavelengths above it. They appear as short bursts, the duration of which depends on the frequency: longer close to the plasma frequency (50 ms), they shorten with increasing separation from the plasma frequency, the usual duration being 15 ms. While the correlation of the wave characteristics with the reflected electrons is good as the satellite moves inside the foreshock, no evolution is found with the distance to the bow shock, neither for the noise nor for the particles. These results are discussed in the frame of various mechanisms which have been proposed to explain these upstream waves but no satisfactory agreement is found with any of them.