[R] two questions for R beginners

Alain Guillet alain.guillet at uclouvain.be
Fri Feb 26 16:16:46 CET 2010

I don't want to sound bad but the first thing beginners should do is to 
look at the manual "An Introduction to R" because most of the simple 
questions have their answers into it. In the same idea, before posting 
to this mailing list, people should (must?) follow the posting guide. 
Indeed it is written there to use some functions like help.search(), 
RSiteSearch() or to read "An Introduction to R" before posting. Too 
often I think how much I would like people to do their homeworks before 

I would like to add that I don't feel an R expert but I don't like to 
waste my time answering questions which have an answer you can find 
easily if you respect the posting guide.


On 26-Feb-10 15:30, Ivan Calandra wrote:
> You are definitely right...
> What to do with bad beginner's questions is not a simple issue.
> If a "beginner's mailing list" is created, who will answer to such
> questions? And moreover, the beginners won't take advantage of the other
> questions (I've personally learned a lot trying to understand the
> questions and answers to other's problems). And also, as you said, the
> problems might persist.
> The beginner's mailing list might be good in one aspect though: the
> "experts" who subscribe to it would be willing to help the beginners to
> get started with R, knowing that the questions might not be clearly stated.
> As you pointed out, the mailing list is not the best for basic stuff
> (the question is of course "what is basic?"). Not everybody knows some
> colleagues who work with R (I'm personally the 1st one to use R in my lab).
> I think, somehow and I have no idea how, documentation and guidance to
> search for help should be more accessible as soon as you start with R.
> Maybe a _*clear*_ section on the R homepage or in the "introduction to
> R" manual like "where to find help", including all of the most common
> and useful resources available (from "?" and RSiteSearch() to R Wiki and
> Crantastic).
> I hope that this whole discussion might help to make the R world better.
> Thank you Patrick for initiating it!
> Regards,
> Ivan
> Le 2/26/2010 15:09, Paul Hiemstra a écrit :
>> Ivan Calandra wrote:
>>> Since you want input from beginners, here are some thoughts
>>> I had and still have two big problems with R:
>>> - this vectorization thing. I've read many manuals (including R
>>> inferno), but I'm still not completely clear about it. In simple
>>> examples, it's fine. But when it gets a bit more complex, then...
>>> Related to it, the *apply functions are still a bit difficult to
>>> understand. When I have to use them, I just try one and see what
>>> happens. I don't understand them well enough to know which one I need.
>>> - the second problem is where to find the functions/packages I need.
>>> There are many options, and that's actually the problem. R Wiki,
>>> Rseek, RSiteSearch, Crantastic, etc... When you start with R, you
>>> discover that the capabilities of R are almost unlimited and you
>>> don't really know where to start, where to find what you need.
>>> As noted in earlier posts, the mailing list is really great, but some
>>> people are really hard with beginners. It was noted in a discussion a
>>> few days ago, but it looks like some don't realize how difficult it
>>> is at the beginning to formulate a good question, clear, with
>>> self-contained example and so on. Moreover, not everybody speaks
>>> English natively. I don't mean that you must help, even when the
>>> question is really vague and not clear and whatever. I'm just saying
>>> that if you don't want to help (whatever the reason), you don't have
>>> to say it badly. But in any cases, the mailing list is still really
>>> helpful. As someone noted (sorry I erased the email so I don't
>>> remember who), it might be a good idea to split it.
>> Hi everyone,
>> My 2ct about the mailing list :). I understand that beginners have a
>> hard time formulating a good question. But the problem is that we
>> can't answer the question when it is unclear. So either I:
>> - Don't bother answering
>> - Try do discuss with the author of the question, taking lots of time
>> to find out what exactly is the question.
>> - Send a "read the posting guide" answer
>> I mostly do the first, as I have to get things done during my PhD :).
>> So this leaves us with kind of a problem, the person mailing the list
>> doesn't have the knowledge to ask the right question, the list can't
>> answer properly and consequently, the person mailing the list still
>> doesn't get the information he/she needs. We could start an R-beginner
>> mailing list, but this would also suffer from this problem. What do
>> you guys think?
>> Maybe the mailing list is not the right medium for really basic stuff.
>> For that I would recommend a good R-book or (better) a course in R or
>> (even better) some colleagues who work with R that you can ask
>> questions to.
>> cheers,
>> Paul
>>> Hope that's what you wanted
>>> Ivan
>>> Le 2/26/2010 08:39, Dieter Menne a écrit :
>>>> Patrick Burns wrote:
>>>>> * What were your biggest misconceptions or
>>>>> stumbling blocks to getting up and running
>>>>> with R?
>>>> (This derives partly from teaching)
>>>> The fact that this xapply-stuff was not idempotent (worse: not
>>>> always) and
>>>> that you need a monster like do.call() to straighten this out.
>>>> Nowadays,
>>>> plyr comes close.
>>>> The concept of environment. With S it was worse, though.
>>>> That you cannot change values "passed by reference". I noted that
>>>> the latter
>>>> is no problem for students who have not worked with c(++/#) before.
>>>> That
>>>> there is only one return-result in functions.
>>>> "[" and the likes as an operator.
>>>> 10 years ago, when I started, the message was: S4 is the future, S3 is
>>>> legacy. So I learned S4. Only to never use is in self-written code
>>>> later.
>>>> Might be different for BioConductor people.
>>>> That sometimes you can use vectors not in data= (lattice), and
>>>> sometimes not
>>>> (ggplot2). Still a VERY confusing inconsistency.
>>>> The "why-does-this-not-print" FAQ.
>>>> Why does par(oma..) not work with lattice?
>>>> Dieter
>>> ______________________________________________
>>> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
>>> PLEASE do read the posting guide
>>> http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
>>> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.
> 	[[alternative HTML version deleted]]
> ______________________________________________
> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
> PLEASE do read the posting guide http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.

Alain Guillet
Statistician and Computer Scientist

SMCS - Institut de statistique - Université catholique de Louvain
Bureau c.316
Voie du Roman Pays, 20
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve

tel: +32 10 47 30 50

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