A Comprehensive Guide to Data Visualisation in R for Beginners

A Comprehensive Guide to Data Visualisation in R for BeginnersAn overview of the R visualisation capabilities.

Parul PandeyBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingFeb 4The world today is filled with data and it becomes imperative that we analyse it properly to gain meaningful insights.

Data Visualisation is a vital tool that can unearth possible crucial insights from data.

If the results of an analysis are not visualised properly, it will not be communicated effectively to the desired audience.

In this tutorial, we will learn how to analyze and display data using R statistical language.

We will begin with basic plots and move on to more advanced ones later in the article.

Table of ContentsIntroduction to RGetting Started with Basic PlotsVisualisation Libraries in RVisualising Geographical data in RConclusionPre-requisitesA basic familiarity with R and its syntax will get you started easily.

Introduction to ROverviewR is a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics.

R is also extremely flexible and easy to use when it comes to creating visualisations.

One of its capabilities is to produce good quality plots with minimum codes.

InstallationWe shall briefly go over the steps required to install R :Go to the R homepage and select CRAN.

CRAN is an acronym for — Comprehensive R Archive Network.

It’s the collection of sites which carry R Distributions, Packages and documentation.

Select the location which is nearest to you.

Download and Install R depending upon your OS.

Alternatively, you can use RStudio over the base R GUI.

StartupAfter R has been downloaded and installed, you can launch it from your Applications folder(MacOS) or Desktop Icon(Windows).

Just type in the following commands to check if R has been installed properly and running.

> 11> ‘hello World’hello worldLoading in the DataDatasets can either be built-in or can be loaded from external sources in R.

Built-in datasets refer to the datasets already provided within R.

We shall be using one such dataset called the air quality dataset, which pertains to the daily air quality measurements in New York from May to September 1973.

This dataset consists of more than 100 observations on 6 variables i.


Ozone(mean parts per billion), Solar.

R(Solar Radiation), Wind(Average wind speed), Temp(maximum daily temperature in Fahrenheit), Month(month of observation) and Day(Day of the month)To load the built-in dataset into the R type the following command in the console:data(airquality)In case of an External data source (CSV, Excel, text, HTML file etc.

), simply set the folder containing the data as the working directory with the setwd() command.

setwd(path of the folder where the file is located)Now, load the file with the help of the read command.

In this case, data is in the form of a CSV file named airquality.

csv which can be downloaded from hereairquality = read.


csv',header=TRUE, sep=",")The above code reads the file airquality.

csv into a data frame airquality.

Header=TRUE specifies that the data includes a header and sep=”,” specifies that the values in data are separated by commas.

Data ExplorationOnce the data has been loaded into the workspace, it is time to explore it to get an idea about its structure.

str(data)It displays the internal structure of an R object and gives a quick overview of the rows and columns of the dataset.


frame': 111 obs.

of 6 variables: $ Ozone : int 41 36 12 18 23 19 8 16 11 14 .

$ Solar.

R: int 190 118 149 313 299 99 19 256 290 274 .

$ Wind : num 7.

4 8 12.

6 11.

5 8.

6 13.

8 20.

1 9.

7 9.

2 10.

9 .

$ Temp : int 67 72 74 62 65 59 61 69 66 68 .

$ Month : int 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 .

$ Day : int 1 2 3 4 7 8 9 12 13 14 .

`head(data,n) and tail(data,n)The head outputs the top n elements in the dataset while the tail method outputs the bottom n.

head(data, n=3)Ozone Solar.

R Wind Temp Month Day1 41 190 7.

4 67 5 12 36 118 8.

0 72 5 23 12 149 12.

6 74 5 3tail(data, n=3) Ozone Solar.

R Wind Temp Month Day109 14 191 14.

3 75 9 28110 18 131 8.

0 76 9 29111 20 223 11.

5 68 9 30summary(data)The summary method displays descriptive statistics for every variable in the dataset, depending upon the type of the variable.

summary(data) Ozone Solar.

R Wind Temp Month Day Min.

: 1.

0 Min.

: 7.

0 Min.

: 2.

30 Min.


00 Min.


000 Min.

: 1.

00 1st Qu.

: 18.

0 1st Qu.


5 1st Qu.

: 7.

40 1st Qu.


00 1st Qu.


000 1st Qu.

: 9.

00 Median : 31.

0 Median :207.

0 Median : 9.

70 Median :79.

00 Median :7.

000 Median :16.

00 Mean : 42.

1 Mean :184.

8 Mean : 9.

94 Mean :77.

79 Mean :7.

216 Mean :15.

95 3rd Qu.

: 62.

0 3rd Qu.


5 3rd Qu.


50 3rd Qu.


50 3rd Qu.


000 3rd Qu.


50 Max.


0 Max.


0 Max.


70 Max.


00 Max.


000 Max.


00We can see at a glance the mean, median, max and the quartile values of the variables.

Getting Started with Basic PlotsThe graphics package is used for plotting base graphs like scatter plot, box plot etc.

A complete list of functions with help pages can be obtained by typing : library(help = "graphics").

The plot() functionThe plot() function is a kind of a generic function for plotting of R objects.

plot(airquality$Ozone)Scatter PlotWe get a scatter/dot plot here wherein each dot represents the value of the Ozone in mean parts per billion.

Let us now plot a graph between the Ozone and Wind values to study the relationship between the two.

plot(airquality$Ozone, airquality$Wind)The plot shows that Wind and Ozone values have a somewhat negative correlation.

What happens when we use plot command the with the entire dataset without selecting any particular columns?plot(airquality)We get a matrix of scatterplots which is a correlation matrix of all the columns.

The plot above instantly shows that:The level of Ozone and Temperature is correlated positively.

Wind speed is negatively correlated to both Temperature and Ozone level.

We can quickly discover the relationship between variables by merely looking at the plots drawn between them.

Using arguments with the plot() functionWe can easily style our charts by playing with the arguments of the plot() function.

type argumentThe plot function has an argument called typewhich can take in values like p: points, l: lines,b: both etc.

This decides the shape of the output graph.

# points and lines plot(airquality$Ozone, type= "b")# high density vertical lines.

plot(airquality$Ozone, type= "h")You can read more about the plot() command by typing ?plot() in the console.

Labels and TitlesWe can also label the X and the Y axis and give a title to our plot.

Additionally, we also have an option of giving color to the plot.

plot(airquality$Ozone, xlab = ‘ozone Concentration’, ylab = ‘No of Instances’, main = ‘Ozone levels in NY city’, col = ‘green’)2.

BarplotIn a bar plot, data is represented in the form of rectangular bars and the length of the bar is proportional to the value of the variable or column in the dataset.

Both horizontal, as well as a vertical bar chart, can be generated by tweaking the horiz parameter.

# Horizontal bar plotbarplot(airquality$Ozone, main = 'Ozone Concenteration in air',xlab = 'ozozne levels', col='green',horiz = TRUE)# Vertical bar plotbarplot(airquality$Ozone, main = 'Ozone Concenteration in air',xlab = 'ozone levels', col='red',horiz = FALSE)3.

HistogramA histogram is quite similar to a bar chart except that it groups values into continuous ranges.

A histogram represents the frequencies of values of a variable bucketed into ranges.


R)We get a histogram of the Solar.

R values.

By giving an appropriate value for the color argument, we can obtain a coloured histogram as well.


R, main = 'Solar Radiation values in air',xlab = 'Solar rad.

', col='red')4.

BoxplotWe have seen how the summary() command in R can display the descriptive statistics for every variable in the dataset.

Boxplot does the same albeit graphically in the form of quartiles.

It is again very straightforward to plot a boxplot in R.

#Single box plotboxplot(airquality$Solar.

R)# Multiple box plotsboxplot(airquality[,0:4], main='Multiple Box plots')5.

Grid of ChartsThere is a very interesting feature in R which enables us to plot multiple charts at once.

This comes in very handy during the EDA since the need to plot multiple graphs one by one is eliminated.

For drawing a grid, the first argument should specify certain attributes like the margin of the grid(mar), no of rows and columns(mfrow), whether a border is to be included(bty) and position of the labels(las: 1 for horizontal, las: 0 for vertical).

par(mfrow=c(3,3), mar=c(2,5,2,1), las=1, bty="n")plot(airquality$Ozone)plot(airquality$Ozone, airquality$Wind)plot(airquality$Ozone, type= "c")plot(airquality$Ozone, type= "s")plot(airquality$Ozone, type= "h")barplot(airquality$Ozone, main = 'Ozone Concenteration in air',xlab = 'ozozne levels', col='green',horiz = TRUE)hist(airquality$Solar.


R)boxplot(airquality[,0:4], main='Multiple Box plots'Note: You can use function documentation to know more about a given function by typing ?plot name.

Also, example(plot) runs the demo of the plot directly in the console.

Visualisation libraries in RR comes equipped with sophisticated visualisation libraries having great capabilities.

Let us have a closer look at some of the commonly used ones.

In this section, we will use the built-in mtcars dataset to show the uses of the various libraries.

This dataset has been extracted from the 1974 Motor Trend US magazine.

Lattice GraphsLattice package is essentially an improvement upon the R Graphics package and is used to visualize multivariate data.

Lattice enables the use of trellis graphs.

Trellis graphs exhibit the relationship between variables which are dependent on one or more variables.

Let us start by installing and loading the package.

# Installing & Loading the packageinstall.

package("lattice")library(lattice) #Loading the datasetattach(mtcars)The attach function attaches the database to the R search path so the objects in the database can be accessed by simply giving their names.

(See ?attach() for more details)# Exploring the datasethead(mtcars) mpg cyl disp hp drat wt qsec vs am gear carbMazda RX4 21.

0 6 160 110 3.

90 2.

620 16.

46 0 1 4 4Mazda RX4 Wag 21.

0 6 160 110 3.

90 2.

875 17.

02 0 1 4 4Datsun 710 22.

8 4 108 93 3.

85 2.

320 18.

61 1 1 4 1Hornet 4 Drive 21.

4 6 258 110 3.

08 3.

215 19.

44 1 0 3 1Hornet Sportabout 18.

7 8 360 175 3.

15 3.

440 17.

02 0 0 3 2Valiant 18.

1 6 225 105 2.

76 3.

460 20.

22 1 0 3 1Before proceeding with the working of the lattice package, let us do a little pre-processing of the data.

There are two columns in our mtcars dataset namely gear and cyl which are categorical in nature.

We need to factorize them to make them more meaningful.

gear_factor<-factor(gear,levels=c(3,4,5),labels=c("3gears","4gears","5gears")) cyl_factor <-factor(cyl,levels=c(4,6,8),labels=c("4cyl","6cyl","8cyl"))Note: since we have attached the dataset mtcars, we do not need to specify mtcars$gear or mtcars$cyl.

Now let us see how we can use the lattice package to create some basic plots in R.

Kernel density plotsdensityplot(~mpg, main="Density Plot", xlab="Miles per Gallon")It is very straightforward to use the lattice library.

One simply needs to plug in the columns for which the plot is desired.

scatterplot matrixsplom(mtcars[c(1,3,4,5,6)], main="MTCARS Data")Scatterplots depicting a combination of two factorsxyplot(mpg~wt|cyl_factor*gear_factor, main="Scatterplots : Cylinders and Gears", ylab="Miles/Gallon", xlab="Weight of Car")2.

ggplot2The ggplot2 package is one of the most widely used visualisation packages in R.

It enables the users to create sophisticated visualisations with little code using the Grammar of Graphics.

The Grammar of Graphics is a general scheme for data visualization which breaks up graphs into semantic components such as scales and layers.

The popularity of ggplot2 has increased tremendously in recent years since it makes it possible to create graphs that contain both univariate and multivariate data in a very simple manner.

#Installing & Loading the package install.

package(“ggplot2”) library(ggplot2) #Loading the datasetattach(mtcars)# create factors with value labels mtcars$gear <- factor(mtcars$gear,levels=c(3,4,5), labels=c(“3gears”, ”4gears”, ”5gears”)) mtcars$am <- factor(mtcars$am,levels=c(0,1), labels=c(“Automatic”,”Manual”)) mtcars$cyl <- factor(mtcars$cyl,levels=c(4,6,8), labels=c(“4cyl”,”6cyl”,”8cyl”))Let us create a few plots to understand the capability of ggplot2Scatter Plotsggplot(data = mtcars, mapping = aes(x = wt, y = mpg)) + geom_point()geom_point() is used to create scatterplots and geom can have many variations like geom_jitter() ,geom_count()etcStyling scatter plots by factorWe know that the dataset mtcars consists of certain variables which are in the form of factors.

We can utilise this property to split our datasetggplot(data = mtcars, mapping = aes(x = wt, y = mpg, color = as.

factor(cyl))) + geom_point()The color parameter is used to differentiate between different factor level of the cyl variable.

Styling scatter plots by sizeAnother useful feature of ggplot2 is that it can be styled according to the size of the attributes.

ggplot(data = mtcars, mapping = aes(x = wt, y = mpg, size = qsec)) + geom_point()In the above example, the value of qsec indicates the acceleration which decides the size of the points.

Different symbols for different sizesWith ggplot2, one can also create unique and interesting shapes by layering multiple points of different sizesp <- ggplot(mtcars,aes(mpg, wt, shape = factor(cyl))) p + geom_point(aes(colour = factor(cyl)), size = 4) + geom_point(colour = "grey90", size = 1.


PlotlyPlotly is an R package that creates interactive web-based graphs via the open source JavaScript graphing library plotly.


It can easily translate the ‘ggplot2’ graphs to web-based versions also.

#Installing & Loading the package install.

package(“plotly”) library(plotly)Let us now see how we can utilise plotly to create interactive visualisations.

We will be working with the same mtcars dataset that used in the lattice graphs demonstration.

Basic Scatter Plotp <- plot_ly(data = mtcars, x = ~hp, y = ~wt)pThe plot above can also be exported in form of a web page to keep its interactiveness intact.

Styled Scatter PlotThe scatter plot can be styled by giving in the appropriate color codes.

p <- plot_ly(data = mtcars, x = ~hp, y = ~wt, marker = list(size = 10, color = ‘rgba(255, 182, 193, .

9)’, line = list(color = ‘rgba(152, 0, 0, .

8)’, width = 2)))pMarkers and LinesIt is also possible to plot markers and lines in the same graph, with plotly.

Here we will create an arbitrary data frame to showcase this feature.

data1 <- rnorm(100, mean = 10) data2 <- rnorm(100, mean = 0) data3 <- rnorm(100, mean = -10) x <- c(1:100)data <- data.

frame(x, data1, data2, data3)p <- plot_ly(data, x = ~x)%>% add_trace(y = ~data1, name = ‘data1’,mode = ‘lines’)%>% add_trace(y = ~data2, name = ‘data2’, mode = ‘lines+markers’)%>% add_trace(y = ~data3, name = ‘data3’, mode = ‘markers’)Adding Color and Size Mappingp <- plot_ly(data = t~csa, xy =~hp, y = ~wt,pcolor = ~hp, size = ~hp )pAlthough this is not a complete list of the packages used for visualisation in R, these should be enough to get you started.

Visualising Geographical data in RGeographic data (Geo data) relates to the location-based data.

It primarily deals with describing objects with respect to their relationship in space.

The data is usually stored in the form of coordinates.

It makes more sense to be able to see a state or a country in the form of a map as it gives a more realistic overview.

In the section below, we will briefly outline the capabilities of R in terms of geographical data visualisation.

Geographical mapsWe will be working with a sample superstore dataset of the ABC company.

The dataset consists of locations of their stores in the US.

Let’s load in the data and check out its columns.

data <- read.


csv', sep=",")head(data) Address City State Zip.

Code Latitude Longitude1 1205 N.

Memorial Parkway Huntsville Alabama 35801-5930 34.

74309 -86.

600962 3650 Galleria Circle Hoover Alabama 35244-2346 33.

37765 -86.

812423 8251 Eastchase Parkway Montgomery Alabama 36117 32.

36389 -86.

150884 5225 Commercial Boulevard Juneau Alaska 99801-7210 58.

35920 -134.

483005 330 West Dimond Blvd Anchorage Alaska 99515-1950 61.

14327 -149.

884226 4125 DeBarr Road Anchorage Alaska 99508-3115 61.

21081 -149.

80434plot() functionWe will create a crude map by simply the Latitude and the Longitude column.

plot(data$Longitude,data$Latitude)The output isn’t an exact map but it does give a faint outline of the US boundary.

map() functionmaps package is very useful and pretty straightforward when it comes to plotting the geographical data.

# Install package install.

packages("maps", dependencies=TRUE)# Loading the installed maps packagelibrary(maps)Using the map() function to plot a base map of the USmap(database="state")Building a point map on top of the base map using symbols() functionsymbols(data$Longitude, data$Latitude, squares =rep(1, length(data$Longitude)), inches=0.

03, add=TRUE)Giving the symbols a colorsymbols(data$Longitude, data$Latitude,bg = 'red', fg = 'red', squares =rep(1, length(data$Longitude)), inches=0.

03, add=TRUE)The commands used with the map function are kind of self-explanatory.

However, you can read more about it on their documentation page.

The geographical data visualisation holds a lot of importance where the data consists of locations.

One can easily visualise the exact places and areas and convey a better picture.


ConclusionWe have seen how simple and easy to start visualisation using R.

One can either opt to create visualisations from scratch or use the pre-built packages.

Whatever you choose, it is clear that visualisations capabilities of R are endless.

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