Exploratory Data Analysis: Useful R Functions for Exploring a Data Frame


Data in R are often stored in data frames, because they can store multiple types of data.  (In R, data frames are more general than matrices, because matrices can only store one type of data.)  Today’s post highlights some common functions in R that I like to use to explore a data frame before I conduct any statistical analysis.  I will use the built-in data set “InsectSprays” to illustrate these functions, because it contains categorical (character) and continuous (numeric) data, and that allows me to show different ways of exploring these 2 types of data.

If you have a favourite command for exploring data frames that is not in this post, please share it in the comments!

This post continues a recent series on exploratory data analysis.  Previous posts in this series include

Useful Functions for Exploring Data Frames

Use dim() to obtain the dimensions of the data frame (number of rows and number of columns).  The output is a vector.

> dim(InsectSprays)
[1] 72 2

Use nrow() and ncol() to get the number of rows and number of columns, respectively.  You can get the same information by extracting the first and second element of the output vector from dim(). 

> nrow(InsectSprays) 
# same as dim(InsectSprays)[1]
[1] 72
> ncol(InsectSprays)
# same as dim(InsectSprays)[2]
[1] 2

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Exploratory Data Analysis: The 5-Number Summary – Two Different Methods in R


Continuing my recent series on exploratory data analysis (EDA), today’s post focuses on 5-number summaries, which were previously mentioned in the post on descriptive statistics in this series.  I will define and calculate the 5-number summary in 2 different ways that are commonly used in R.  (It turns out that different methods arise from the lack of universal agreement among statisticians on how to calculate quantiles.)  I will show that the fivenum() function uses a simpler and more interpretable method to calculate the 5-number summary than the summary() function.  This post expands on a recent comment that I made to correct an error in the post on box plots.

> y = seq(1, 11, by = 2)
> y
[1]  1  3  5  7  9 11
> fivenum(y)
[1]  1  3  6  9 11
> summary(y)
     Min.   1st Qu.   Median    Mean     3rd Qu.    Max. 
     1.0     3.5       6.0       6.0      8.5       11.0

Why do these 2 methods of calculating the 5–number summary in R give different results?  Read the rest of this post to find out the answer!

Previous posts in this series on EDA include

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