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Is R right for you? If yes… by Pei-Pei Lei

Greetings AEA community, I’m Pei-Pei Lei, a biostatistician in the Office of Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Have you been looking to expand your skill set in statistical programming? Have you wondered if R is the appropriate statistical software package for your needs? The purpose of this post is to help you decide whether R is right for you and, if so, how you can get started using it.

R may be the right tool if you:

  • Need to manage and/or analyze quantitative data
  • Are looking for a free alternative to commercial software packages, such as SAS, SPSS, and STATA
  • Don’t mind writing computer code – does print (“Hello, world!”) look easy enough to you?
  • Want to create nice-looking and informative figures and graphics (see this website for example)

If you’re not sure, here are some places for you to get a feel for R language:

  • TryR: This website provides online interactive step-by-step practice on the webpage
  • DataCamp: This website provides online interactive step-by-step practice (more material than TryR)

Hot Tips:

The following is a list of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can help you learn R for free (or pay a fee for a verified certificate):

  • R programming on Coursera: It’s a 4-week course to go through basic R programming knowledge. It provides a weekly quiz and a final project for you to test your skills. Good for beginning to intermediate users.
  • Introduction to R for Data Science on edX: It’s a self-paced 4-week course to go through basic R programming knowledge. This course is using DataCamp for class materials and exercises. Good for beginners.
  • R Basics – R Programming Language Introduction on Udemy: This is a self-paced course that goes through basic set up such as downloading the software and coding. Good for beginners.
  • Data Analysis with R on Udacity: This course takes about 2 months to finish (it’s also part of the Data Analyst nanodegree program). Its tutorial videos show coding processes in RStudio. Good for beginning to intermediate users.

You can also install the Swirl R package to learn R in R. It gives you interactive instructions for different topics. This is good for intermediate users.

Rad Resources:

  • R-bloggers: This is a repository of R-related articles, including tutorials. You can subscribe to the mailing list to receive the latest articles.
  • Stack overflow: This is a forum where you can post your question and get answers, or even better, provide answer to others’ questions!

Lessons Learned:

Don’t be intimidated by the many choices you have in learning R. They are the means to reach your goal. So pick one that you like and get started!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

6 thoughts on “Is R right for you? If yes… by Pei-Pei Lei”

  1. Hi Pei Pei!
    I was planning on starting with R, and this article is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you for sharing.
    Although, I also somewhere (https://dare2compete.com/bites/r-programming-everything-you-need-to-know/) that R offers more than 8000 user-contributed packages and therefore, R probably has, even more, to offer, like packages to build and host interactive web apps, build and serve APIs and even make videogame interfaces. For example, the Shiny package in the R programming makes it easy to build interactive web apps straight from R.
    Keep posting!

    1. Hi Nayan,
      Great to hear that this article is helpful! I agree that the packages are very versatile and powerful. Thanks for sharing your learning journey!

  2. Do you know of any 3-5 day classroom workshops about statistical analysis and R? I’d like to learn with a teacher in person. The best I’ve found is StatsCamp’s “Statistical Programming and Data Analysis with R Course”. But it’s not till June.
    I’ll travel!

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