There are myriad resources out there to learn programming in R. After linking to a tutorial on how to install R and RStudio on your computer, we then outline a few different paths to learn R basics depending on how you enjoy learning, and finally we include a few resources for intermediate and advanced learning.
Setting Up your Computer
Start out by installing R and, we recommend, RStudio, on your computer. RStudio
is an Interactive Development Environment (IDE) for the R program. It
is optional, but recommended when working with R. Directions
for installing can be found within the tutorial
Install Git, Bash Shell, R & RStudio. You will need administrator permissions on your computer.
Pathways to Learning the Basics of R
If you prefer to learn through in-person trainings, consider local workshops from The Carpentries Software Carpentry or Data Carpentry (generally ~$25 for a 2-day workshop), courses offered by a local college or university (prices vary), or organize your colleagues to meet regularly to learn R together (free!).
Online interactive courses
If you prefer to learn in a semi-structured online environment, there are a wide variety of online courses for learning R including Data Camp, Coursera, edX, and Lynda.com. Many of these options include free introductory lessons or trial periods as well as paid courses. We do not have personal experience with these courses and do not recommend or specifically promote any course.
In program interactive course
Swirl is guided introduction to R where you code along with the instructions in R. You get direct feedback when you type a command incorrectly. To use this package, once you have R or RStudio open and running, use the following commands to start the first lesson.
If you prefer a less structured online environment, these tutorial series may be better suited for you.
Software Carpentry’s Programming with R
- Learn R with a focus on tools needed for effective programming. Beyond the basics, it covers functions, loops, command line, and other key skills
Data Carpentry’s R for data analysis and visualization of Ecological Data
- Learn R with a focus on data analysis. Beyond the basics, it covers dyplr for data aggregation & manipulation, ggplot2 for plotting, and touches on interacting with an SQL database. Designed to be taught by an instructor but the materials also work for independent learning online.
Ethan White’s Data Carpentry for Biologists Semester Course (online content)
- This comprehensive course contains an R section. While the overall focus is on data science skills, learning R is a portion of it (note, this is an extensive course).
- RStudio links to many other learning opportunities. Start with the 'Beginners' learning path.
A blend of having an instructor and self-paced, video tutorials may also be of interest. New stand-alone video tutorials are out each day, so we aren’t going to recommend a specific series. Find what works for you by searching “R Programming video tutorials” on YouTube.
Books are still a great way to learn R (and other languages). Many books are available at local libraries (university or community) or online, if you want to try them out before buying. Below are a few of the many, many books that data scientists working on the NEON project have found useful.
- Michael Crawley’s The R Book is a classic that takes you from beginning steps to analyses and modelling.
- Grolemun and Wickham’s R for Data Science focuses on using R in data science applications using Hadley Wickham’s “tidyverse”. It does assume some basic familiarity with R. Bonus: it is available online or in book format! (If you are completely new, they recommend starting with Hands-on Programming with R).
Beyond the Basics
There are many intermediate and advanced courses, lessons, and tutorials linked in the above resources. For example, the Swirl package offers intermediate and advanced courses on specific topics, as does RStudio's list. See courses here; development is ongoing so new courses may be added.
However, once the basics are handled, you will find that much of your learning will happen through solving individual problems you encounter. To solve these problems, your favorite search engine is your friend. Paste the error (without specifics to your file/data) into the search menu and find answers from those who have had similar questions.
For more on working with NEON data in particular, be sure to check out the other NEON data tutorials.
If you have questions or comments on this content, please contact us.