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How to ask for R help

by Stephen Welle, Senior Support Engineer at Revolution Alalytics and  Joseph Rickert For someone trying to learn any new technology getting help with a problem on a public forum can be stressful. Knowing where to go, deciding how to pose a question and figuring out how to deal with a response can be challenging. Moreover, an unpleasant interaction could be ego bruising and a real set-back to learning. Before posting a question on an internet forum do everything you can to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. Here are some recommendations Steve and I have for getting help with R questions. Preliminary WorkTwo of the most novice friendly places to go for help in the R world are the R-Help mailing list on CRAN and the R section of stack overflow. Both of these forums are monitored by experts who are very willing to patiently answer questions, but not always well disposed towards mind-reading. Maximize your chances of getting a quick, positive response by formulating your question or problem as clearly as possible with minimum ambiguity. And then: do your homework. The r-project posting guide shows several ways to search for R help, lists the common mistakes people make in posting questions and provides a host of details on the resources available for getting help and the mechanics of using the various R mailing lists. Stack overflow  provides some excellent suggestions on posting questions. Doing the work to thoroughly research your question is also at the top of their list. Moreover, they point out that taking the trouble to do this makes you a valuable contributor to the R community. They write: Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found ...and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer! Posting Your QuestionWhen comes time to post your question you may find Steves guidelines helpful. These are based years of trouble shooting problems as a member of Revolution’s Technical Support organization. You should always include information on which version of R and what flavor of operating system you are running (see 'R.version' and 'Revo.version' in R) Be as specific as you can in describing your problem. Others will often need to duplicate the issue, even if they have worked with similiar code in the past. Simply saying 'function xxx doesn't work' is not helpful enough. Ask yourself what someone else might need to reproduce the problem on their system. Include sufficient context information, so that someone reading your question understands what your goal is with running your code or in doing a set of calculations in R. If the problem occurs in complicated or lengthy code, identify the problem function and provide a simpler reproduce for others, when possible. If you are having problems with an analytic function, either provide test data or provide information on how to reproduce your problem using built-in data in R(for example using 'kyphosis','airquality', etc.) Finally, here are three examples from the Revolution Technical support archives that illustrate good and bad posts. Two are examples of what Steve calls "pretty well framed support questions" and one is an example of a question that lacks needed information. #1 - a good post A few folks here are trying to load the rJava library, they have JAVA_HOME set to their 64 bit java (1.6) but are getting this error. call: inDL(x, as.logical(local), as.logical(now), ...) error: unable to load shared library 'z:/R/win64-library/2.11/rJava/libs/x64/rJava.dll': LoadLibrary failure: The specified module could not be found. We get this when trying to load the library in the console line. I am sure we’re missing something, but we are not sure what. thanks What makes this a good post is that it provides information on the versions of Java and R being run and provides a complete error message. #2 - a good post Platform: Windows (32-bit) I am working with a 1.9 GB SPSS data file with 99 variables and 4,684,587 cases. When I try to read the file into Revolution Analytics R using the following command: inDataFileR3C <- "d:>

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More Stories By David Smith

David Smith is Vice President of Marketing and Community at Revolution Analytics. He has a long history with the R and statistics communities. After graduating with a degree in Statistics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, he spent four years researching statistical methodology at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, where he also developed a number of packages for the S-PLUS statistical modeling environment. He continued his association with S-PLUS at Insightful (now TIBCO Spotfire) overseeing the product management of S-PLUS and other statistical and data mining products.<

David smith is the co-author (with Bill Venables) of the popular tutorial manual, An Introduction to R, and one of the originating developers of the ESS: Emacs Speaks Statistics project. Today, he leads marketing for REvolution R, supports R communities worldwide, and is responsible for the Revolutions blog. Prior to joining Revolution Analytics, he served as vice president of product management at Zynchros, Inc. Follow him on twitter at @RevoDavid

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