Missing Values In Dataframes With Inspectdf

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Summarising NA by column in dataframes

Exploring the number of records containing missing values in a new set of data is an important and well known exploratory check. However, NAs can be introduced into your data for a multitude of other reasons, often as a side effect of data manipulations like transforming columns or performing joins. In most cases, the behaviour is expected, but sometimes when things go wrong, tracing missing values back through a sequence of steps can be a helpful diagnostic.

All of that is to say that it’s vital to have simple tools for interrogating dataframes for missing values… enter inspectdf!

Missingness by column: inspectdf::inspect_na()

The inspect_na() function from the inspectdf package is a simple tool designed to quickly summarise the frequency of missingness by columns in a dataframe. Firstly, install the inspectdf package by running


Then load both the inspectdf and dplyr packages – the latter we’ll just use for its built-in starwars dataset.

# load packages

# quick peek at starwars data that comes with dplyr

## # A tibble: 6 x 13
##   name  height  mass hair_color skin_color eye_color birth_year gender
##   <chr>  <int> <dbl> <chr>      <chr>      <chr>          <dbl> <chr> 
## 1 Luke…    172    77 blond      fair       blue            19   male  
## 2 C-3PO    167    75 <NA>       gold       yellow         112   <NA>  
## 3 R2-D2     96    32 <NA>       white, bl… red             33   <NA>  
## 4 Dart…    202   136 none       white      yellow          41.9 male  
## 5 Leia…    150    49 brown      light      brown           19   female
## 6 Owen…    178   120 brown, gr… light      blue            52   male  
## # … with 5 more variables: homeworld <chr>, species <chr>, films <list>,
## #   vehicles <list>, starships <list>

So how many missing values are there in starwars? Even looking at the output of the head() function reveals that there are at least a few NAs in there. The use of the inspect_na() function is very straightforward:

starwars %>% inspect_na

## # A tibble: 13 x 3
##    col_name     cnt  pcnt
##    <chr>      <dbl> <dbl>
##  1 birth_year    44 50.6 
##  2 mass          28 32.2 
##  3 homeworld     10 11.5 
##  4 height         6  6.90
##  5 hair_color     5  5.75
##  6 species        5  5.75
##  7 gender         3  3.45
##  8 name           0  0   
##  9 skin_color     0  0   
## 10 eye_color      0  0   
## 11 films          0  0   
## 12 vehicles       0  0   
## 13 starships      0  0

The output is a simple tibble with columns showing the count (cnt) and percentage (pcnt) of NAs corresponding to each column (col_name) in the starwars data. For example, we can see that the birth_year column has the highest number of NAs with over half missing. Note that the tibble is sorted in descending order of the frequency of NA occurrence.

By adding the show_plot command, the tibble can also be displayed graphically:

starwars %>% inspect_na %>% show_plot

Although this is a simple summary, and you’ll find many other ways to do this in R, I use this all of the time and find it very convenient to have a one-liner to call on. Code efficiency matters!

More on the inspectdf package and exploratory data analysis

inspectdf can be used to produce a number of common summaries with minimal effort. See previous posts to learn how to explore and visualise categorical data and to calculate and display correlation coefficients. For a more general overview, have a look at the package website.

For a recent overview of R packages for exploratory analysis, you might also be interested in the recent paper The Landscape of R Packages for Automated Exploratory Data Analysis by Mateusz Staniak and Przemysław Biecek.

Comments? Suggestions? Issues?

Any feedback is welcome! Find me on twitter at rushworth_a or write a github issue.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Alastair Rushworth.

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