Useful Functions in R for Manipulating Text Data

Introduction

In my current job, I study HIV at the genetic and biochemical levels.  Thus, I often work with data involving the sequences of nucleotides or amino acids of various patient samples of HIV, and this type of work involves a lot of manipulating text.  (Strictly speaking, I analyze sequences of nucleotides from DNA that are reverse-transcribed from the HIV’s RNA.)  In this post, I describe some common functions in R that I often use for text processing.

Obtaining Basic Information about Character Variables

In R, I often work with text data in the form of character variables.  To check if a variable is a character variable, use the is.character() function.

> year = 2014
> is.character(year)
[1] FALSE

If a variable is not a character variable, you can convert it to a character variable using the as.character() function.

> year.char = as.character(year)
> is.character(year.char)
[1] TRUE

A basic piece of information about a character variable is the number of characters that exist in this string.  Use the nchar() function to obtain this information.

> nchar(year.char)
[1] 4

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