[Rd] Help Documentation
ivo.welch at yale.edu
Sun Mar 28 23:52:48 CEST 2004
ladies and gents:
I have posted a couple of simple questions recently. As often happens
to novices, the information was there somewhere, even in front of my
eyes, and I just did not see it. I looked in docs that seemed to me to
be the right place for this particular information, but did not find it.
There is no question: mea culpa, and everything is documented somewhere
in R. (Worst comes to worst, it is documented in the source.)
But here comes my complaint: I tried to help by documenting where I got
lost, and by suggesting simple one-liners for the documentation, which
would provide additional cross-references to what I was looking for.
The cost of adding additional brief sentences to the help must be
relatively small, and the help to stuck novices may be considerable in
reducing the learning curve. For my specific examples, I suggested a
reference to q() in ?exit, and a "select= -c(v1,v2)" to ?subset.
Clearly, the information is redundant. (Of course, in a sense, all
documentation is redundant.) The goal of good documentation should be
to help novice users who do not know the answer. The goal should not be
minimum redundancy in the help files. Being fairly new to R, I see
difficulties where Brian Ripley and other experts and developers no
longer do. I bet that if I wonder about the answers, I am more than
likely not alone. In fact, I think it would really make sense to
improve the docs by studying where novices get stuck.
I was told by Brian to stop sending such suggestions, in order not to
clutter the R bug report list. OK, I can save my time; I just wanted to
help. But, for others' sake, please reconsider the policy of not
gearing the internal R documentation for novices like myself.
I will butt out here.
PS: Incidentally, the R help seems a little schizophrenic. For
example, Brian Ripley is the most helpful source for learning R (both
books and posts), and I am rather grateful for it. I just do not
understand why, at the same time, he seems to be annoyed while fielding
questions of the r-help post-list. He is not the only individual who
likes to help, but grudgingly so...
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