[R] A Few Suggestions to help out newbies

Laurent Gautier laurent at genome.cbs.dtu.dk
Tue Apr 2 16:10:56 CEST 2002

On Tue, Apr 02, 2002 at 03:28:13AM -0800, Zed Shaw wrote:
> 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.

You may try get in contact with the author of the following web document


> 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.

Several FAQs are accessible at

Personally I never remember how to download r-devel using rsync. I am going
to the 'R FAQ' then I am using the 'text search feature' of my web browser
(Alt+F, Ctr+F, or / in my case) and I find the answer.

Do not mistake a concise answer for an impolite answer. Busy people
sometimes allow themselfves to skip some of the formalities.

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

?! I have a menu item 'Manuals' when I go to http://www.r-project.org/ 
(on the left, third from the top in the 'Documentation' section)

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

'www.google.com' aficionados may try the string 'site:www.r-project.org'
in their queryi for example. 

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

Memory has become more expensive over the last few months but displaying a
html document that weights even few hundred kilobytes remains a reasonable
assumption (the document is currently 164 kb).

> 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).

I remembered being a happy user of statlib


> 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.

I am not certain about how 'easy' is the first, but I am surely happy a
brave soul did it (I am an humble user, I am not sure I could have done it).
Did you check ESS ?
(accessible through the menu 'Other' at www.r-project.org).

If you are not sure about how to accomplish what you believe being
 impossible...    :)

> 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.

I usually reach the faulty part in my function within an acceptable time.
Did you try 


> 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

Hopin' it helps,

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