### I am stuck… I get an error message that I don’t understand

Start by googling the error message. However, this doesn’t always work very well because often, package developers rely on the error catching provided by R. You end up with general error messages that might not be very helpful to diagnose a problem (e.g. “subscript out of bounds”).

However, you should check stackoverflow. Search using the [r] tag. Most questions have already been answered, but the challenge is to use the right words in the search to find the answers: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/r

The Introduction to R can also be dense for people with little programming experience but it is a good place to understand the underpinnings of the R language.

The R FAQ is dense and technical but it is full of useful information.

The key to get help from someone is for them to grasp your problem rapidly. You should make it as easy as possible to pinpoint where the issue might be.

Try to use the correct words to describe your problem. For instance, a package is not the same thing as a library. Most people will understand what you meant, but others have really strong feelings about the difference in meaning. The key point is that it can make things confusing for people trying to help you. Be as precise as possible when describing your problem

If possible, try to reduce what doesn’t work to a simple reproducible example. If you can reproduce the problem using a very small data.frame instead of your 50,000 rows and 10,000 columns one, provide the small one with the description of your problem. When appropriate, try to generalize what you are doing so even people who are not in your field can understand the question.

To share an object with someone else, if it’s relatively small, you can use the function dput(), it will output R code that can be used to recreate the exact same object as the one in memory:

dput(head(iris)) # iris is an example data.frame that comes with R
## structure(list(Sepal.Length = c(5.1, 4.9, 4.7, 4.6, 5, 5.4),
##     Sepal.Width = c(3.5, 3, 3.2, 3.1, 3.6, 3.9), Petal.Length = c(1.4,
##     1.4, 1.3, 1.5, 1.4, 1.7), Petal.Width = c(0.2, 0.2, 0.2,
##     0.2, 0.2, 0.4), Species = structure(c(1L, 1L, 1L, 1L, 1L,
##     1L), .Label = c("setosa", "versicolor", "virginica"), class = "factor")), .Names = c("Sepal.Length",
## "Sepal.Width", "Petal.Length", "Petal.Width", "Species"), row.names = c(NA,
## 6L), class = "data.frame")

If the object is larger, provide either the raw file (i.e., your CSV file) with your script up to the point of the error (and after removing everything that is not relevant to your issue). Alternatively, in particular if your questions is not related to a data.frame, you can save any R object to a file:

saveRDS(iris, file="/tmp/iris.rds")

The content of this file is however not human readable and cannot be posted directly on stackoverflow. It can how be sent to someone by email who can read it with this command:

some_data <- readRDS(file="~/Downloads/iris.rds")

Last, but certainly not least, always include the output of sessionInfo() as it provides critical information about your platform, the versions of R and the packages that you are using, and other information that can be very helpful to understand your problem.

sessionInfo()
## R version 3.1.1 (2014-07-10)
## Platform: x86_64-apple-darwin13.1.0 (64-bit)
##
## locale:
## [1] en_AU.UTF-8/en_AU.UTF-8/en_AU.UTF-8/C/en_AU.UTF-8/en_AU.UTF-8
##
## attached base packages:
## [1] stats     graphics  grDevices utils     datasets  methods   base
##
## loaded via a namespace (and not attached):
## [1] digest_0.6.4    evaluate_0.5.5  formatR_1.0     htmltools_0.2.6
## [5] knitr_1.6       rmarkdown_0.3.3 stringr_0.6.2   tools_3.1.1
## [9] yaml_2.1.13

### Where to ask for help?

• Your friendly colleagues: if you know someone with more experience than you, they might be able and willing to help you.
• Stackoverlow: if your question hasn’t been answered before and is well crafted, chances are you will get an answer in less than 5 min.
• The R-help: it is read by a lot of people (including most of the R core team), a lot of people post to it, but the tone can be pretty dry, and it is not always very welcoming to new users. If your question is valid, you are likely to get an answer very fast but don’t expect that it will come with smiley faces. Also, here more than everywhere else, be sure to use correct vocabulary (otherwise you might get an answer pointing to the misuse of your words rather than answering your question). You will also have more success if your question is about a base function rather than a specific package.
• If your question is about a specific package, see if there is a mailing list for it. Usually it’s included in the DESCRIPTION file of the package that can be accessed using packageDescription("name-of-package"). You may also want to try to email the author of the package directly.
• There are also some topic-specific mailing lists (GIS, phylogenetics, etc…), the complete list is here.

### More resources

Previous: Analyzing data