How to Read R Help Pages

Folks just starting out with R often assume that those of us who are more experienced never need to get help. This is definitely not true! Everyone always searches for help, no matter how advanced an R user you are.

Learning how to search for help when you need it is a key skill. One of the places user typically look for help is in the help files that are loaded when you type ?function() (replacing function() with an actual function name, of course). These help files have a particular format that isn’t intuitive when you’re just starting out.

In the current cohort of R in 3 Months, people asked how to make sense of help files. I asked my co-instructor Charlie Hadley to walk through the reading of a help file. It was such a useful video I thought I’d share with everyone.

If you’ve watched the video and still want more, check out this section of Kieran Healy’s book Data Visualization: A Practical Introduction. It’s a great reference that shows how help files are structured.

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