[R] Documentation General Comments

Rolf Turner r.turner at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Apr 22 02:03:25 CEST 2008

The root of the problem is that R is a voluntary/cooperative project  
and those
who develop and maintain R are (generously) contributing their time and
probably have little-to-no time left over to devote to the  
improvement of the

The generic answer to such a dilemma is that those who see  
deficiencies in
R or in its documentation should volunteer to remedy or contribute to  
remediation of those deficiencies.  But there is a problem.

Those of us who see deficiencies often (usually?) simply don't  
enough to undertake the remediation.  This is particularly true in  
of inadequacies of documentation.  If we knew enough to improve the  
we probably wouldn't have been motivated to whinge about the deficiency
in the first place.

An ``obvious'' solution to this dilemma is that us bunnies should  
seek tutelage from gurus who do know enough and then when we have  
understood the issues, pass on our learning by re-writing the  
This is a good theory, but doesn't really work in practice.  The  
gurus are
usually too busy to provide tutelage --- it would probably be less  
time consuming
for them to write the documentation themselves.  More problematic  
still is
that if you ask a guru for more explanation the guru will, more often  
not, get very grumpy and tell you to stop wasting their time.  After  
all, the
situation is very clear to *them*.  They understand the existing  
perfectly --- why don't you?

This is why the documentation tends to be opaque in the first place.   
people who build R are so clever and understand so much that they cannot
put themselves in the shoes of those of us who are not so blessed with
intelligence and erudition.  So they (often) write terse cryptic  
which (often) depend on background knowledge that many of us lack.  That
background knowledge can of course be found ***if you know where to  
--- or even if you don't, given that you are prepared to put in  
time and effort searching ***and*** are clever at searching.  It's that
last requirement that leaves *me* out in the cold.

So what's the solution?  Short answer --- there probably isn't one.   
My take
on it is ``Give up and go to the pub!'' :-)

		Rolf Turner

On 22/04/2008, at 10:36 AM, Dr. Jeff Miller wrote:

> I agree completely.  Maybe it's time for an exhaustive manual (with  
> weekly
> downloadable updates, of course).
> It would also be nice if it were cross-referenced. For example, to  
> get what
> I wanted last weekend from a simple 2x2 contingency analysis, I had to
> bounce between 4 different libraries. (All I was trying to do was  
> replicate
> the output from SAS Proc Freq).
> A lot of the library documentations have a See Also section but  
> these may be
> getting out of date.
> But maybe our request is too monumental to be feasible. (?)
> Jeff
> -----Original Message-----
> From: r-help-bounces at r-project.org [mailto:r-help-bounces at r- 
> project.org] On
> Behalf Of Beck, Kenneth (STP)
> Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 5:56 PM
> To: r-help at r-project.org
> Subject: [R] Documentation General Comments
> I realize the R developers are probably overwhelmed and have little  
> time for
> this, but the documentation really needs some serious reorganizaton.
> A good through description of basic variable types would help a  
> lot, e.g.
> the difference between lists, arrays, matrices and frames. And, it  
> appears
> there is some object-orientation to R, but it is not complete. I  
> can't, for
> instance find a "metafile" method for a "recordedplot" type, using  
> either
> the variable direclty or the replayPlot() method. I am sorry to  
> post this,
> but I am really having trouble sorting out certain methods in "R".  
> The basic
> tutorial "Introduction to R" is so basic, it hardly helps at all, then
> digging through documentation is really an exercise in frustration.  
> The
> SimpleR is also so basic it is of little help other than to just get
> started. I occasionally find answers in the mailing list. See my  
> later post
> on recordPlot for a good example.
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