R-Sessions 05: Getting Help

Concordant with the open source community, R-Project is accompanied by many additional help functions. Most of them are freely available.

The help() – function

R-Project has a help function build in. This functionality is focused on informing the user on the parameters function have. Almost for all functions some examples are given as well.

A general help page is available, which contains several introductory documents as ‘An Introduction to R’, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, and ‘The R Language Definition’. More advanced documents are made available as well, such as ‘Writing R Extensions’ and ‘R Internals’. This general help page is called for by entering:


To obtain help on a specific function, you use help() with the name of the function between the brackets. For instance, if you want help on the plot() function, use the following syntax:


This results in a page that gives a short definition of the function, shows the parameters of the function, links to related functions, and finally gives some examples.

Freely available documents

More elaborate documents can be found on the website of R-Project (http://www.r-project.org) in the documents section. This can be found by clicking on ‘manuals’ from the home-page, just below the ‘documents’ header. First, a couple of documents written by the core development team of R-Project are offered, but don’t forget to click on the ‘Contributed Documentation’ link, which leads to many more documents, often of a very high quality.

Books on R-Project

Many books have been written on R-Project, ranging from very basic-level introductions to the ones that address the fundamental parts of the software. In this manual I review some of these books, which I can advise to every starting or more advanced user of R-Project:

  • Mixed-Effect Models in S and S-Plus, by José Pinheiro & Douglas Bates
  • An R and S-PLUS Companion to Applied Regression, by John Fox
  • Introductory Statistics with R, by Peter Dalgaard
  • Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel / Hierarchical Models, by Andrew Gelman and Jennifer Hill

R-help mailinglist

When all help fails, there is always the R-Help mailing-list. This is a service where all members receive the e-mails that are send to a specific address. The quality and speed of the given answers and solutions is often very high. Questions are asked and answered many times a day, so be prepared to receive a high volume of e-mail when signing up for this service.

More information on the R-help mailing-list, as well as the ability to sign-up, can be found on: https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help

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R-Sessions is a collection of manual chapters for R-Project, which are maintained on Curving Normality. All posts are linked to the chapters from the R-Project manual on this site. The manual is free to use, for it is paid by the advertisements, but please refer to it in your work inspired by it. Feedback and topic requests are highly appreciated.
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