[R] ISO R-programming docs/refs

From: <kynn_at_panix.com>
Date: Mon 17 Oct 2005 - 21:36:48 EST

In my job I write custom computer programs for data analysis, which are used in our company's consulting business. Whenever I've needed statistical analyses I've coded the algorithms myself, but my boss wants me to start learning and using R, to speed up development.

I am very reluctuant to do this because I can't find adequate *programming* documentation for R (though I can find a lot of inadequate documentation). As far as I can tell, the R documentation may be adequate for end-users who don't plan to do much programming
(if any at all), but it is completely unacceptable from the standpoint
of programming.

In a couple of simple exploratory projects I have been reduced to programming by *trial and error*. For example, I just spent a couple of fruitless hours trying to find information on how to modify a list
(all my ***guesses*** have failed; they either produce results
different from what I want, or generate errors such as "replacing element in non-existent column"). How much fundamental basic can one get in the documentation of a programming language than this sort of information?[1] This is just one of many examples. My R code is filled with crude hacks that I don't understand, and that I stumbled upon in blind scrambles to get my code to work. How can I possible stand by the results of my R scripts if they are the product of sheer guesswork?

I even bought the R Reference Manual, vols. 1 and 2, and deeply regret it, since they are nothing other than a hardcopy of the online manual pages[1]. This is no substitute for a reference of the R language and how to program it.

Is my impression correct that R is simply not well-documented enough for serious programming? Have I missed a key reference to programming R? To those of you who do a lot of programming in R (other than those who are members of the R Development team, of course): what references do you consult on questions about the programming language itself (as opposed to this or that library function)?

Thanks!

kj

[1] A massive tome that I have called S-Plus 2000 Programmer's guide has *nothing* on the subject. Unbelievable! 900 pages and not a word on how one modifies a basic data type.

[2] This, BTW, was a *big* waste of money. I'm all for supporting open source development, and often buy hardcopy manuals of free software precisely for this reason, but for what I got in return for my 100 USD, I'd been far better off sending directly to the R Foundation the pittance that the publishers of the manual pass on to it.

P.S. I'm aware of Introduction to R; this is OK as a tutorial, particularly for end users, but by itself utterly inadequate as a reference to the R language.



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