[R] A Few Suggestions to help out newbies

Zed Shaw zedshaw at zedshaw.com
Tue Apr 2 13:28:13 CEST 2002

Hey Folks,

I may have some suggestions for you, based on my experience as a newbie
with R.  Implementing these very simple resources would be fairly easy
to do and would give volumes of help in return:

1)  An R Cookbook section of the site where people can submit pieces of
interesting code that satisfies a need.  This would be similar to the
Perl/Python/Java Cookbook texts that O'Reilly puts out, but with a more
dynamic activity.  The python folks have something like this, and people
love it.  I learned a lot of python this way.

2)  A Series of Documents helping people translate from another package
to R.  For example, "R for SPSS People", "R for SAS People", etc.

3)  A dynamic FAQ, placed prominently on the front page, ready for
people to access and search.  The idea is that, as you encounter these
dumb questions, you can slap up another faq question about it.  When it
is asked again, don't bother replying, just *politely* say, "go to
http://www.r-project.com/somefaqquestion/".  That saves everyone
headaches, and encapsulates the knowledge on the list.  If it were setup
right, it could be searchable through R.

4)  Better web site layout.  It is hard to read the manuals if you can't
find them.

5)  Better search for the site.  It would be nice if you used google on
the site, but even htdig setup properly would help.

6)  Better layout of packages listed on CRAN.  This listing format will
collapse under its own weight once it gets too large.

7)  Create the "Encyclopedia of Statstics" online.  I would kill for a
repository of all the "trade secrets" of statistics, related to R.  For
example: a brief discussion of the merits of factor analysis,
considering its heritage with IQ tests.  Or, "The History of Student".
If this were organized right, it would even be possible to access it
from R itself and provide people with help with the statistics part of
using R (which is probably the most difficult portion).

And, related to R:

8) Command completion and contextual help in R.  The first one is
probably fairly easy.  The second one is probably impossible.  It would
involve giving out detailed help messages when things go wrong.  Not
sure how to do that.

9) Finally, my personal pet peeve of R:  tell me the line number of
errors.  It's nearly impossible to fix a broken function when I don't
know where it is broken.

Anyway, those are just a few suggestions.  You'll notice that there is a
common thread through all of them:  record the knowledge somewhere, make
it easy to find.  I think doing at least some of these things would
improve support for R, and make it fairly famous (especially if the
statistics encyclopedia worked out). 

Zed A. Shaw

r-help mailing list -- Read http://www.ci.tuwien.ac.at/~hornik/R/R-FAQ.html
Send "info", "help", or "[un]subscribe"
(in the "body", not the subject !)  To: r-help-request at stat.math.ethz.ch

More information about the R-help mailing list