Document & Publish Your Workflow: R Markdown & knitr

Table of Contents

This tutorial we will work with the knitr and rmarkdown packages within RStudio to learn how to effectively and efficiently document and publish our workflows online.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this activity, you will be able to:

  • Explain why documenting and publishing one's code is important.
  • Describe two tools that enable ease of publishing code & output: R Markdown and the knitr package.

Documentation Is Important

As we read in the Reproducible Science overview, the four facets of reproducible science are:

  • Documentation
  • Organization,
  • Automation and
  • Dissemination.

This week we will learn about the R Markdown file format (and R package) which can be used with the knitr package to document and publish (disseminate) your code and code output.

View Slideshow: Share, Publish & Archive - from the Reproducible Science Curriculum

The Tools We Will Use

R Markdown

“R Markdown is an authoring format that enables easy creation of dynamic documents, presentations, and reports from R. It combines the core syntax of markdown (an easy to write plain text format) with embedded R code chunks that are run so their output can be included in the final document. R Markdown documents are fully reproducible (they can be automatically regenerated whenever underlying R code or data changes)." -- RStudio documentation.

We use markdown syntax in R Markdown (.rmd) files to document workflows and to share data processing, analysis and visualization outputs. We can also use it to create documents that combine R code, output and text.

Data Tip: Most of the NEON Data Skills educational resources on this site are built using R Markdown files.

Why R Markdown?

There are many advantages to using R Markdown in your work:

  • Human readable syntax.
  • Simple syntax - it can be learned quickly.
  • All components of your work are clearly documented. You don't have to remember what steps, assumptions, tests were used.
  • You can easily extend or refine analyses by modifying existing or adding new code blocks.
  • Analysis results can be disseminated in various formats including HTML, PDF, slide shows and more.
  • Code and data can be shared with a colleague to replicate the workflow.

Data Tip: RPubs is a quick way to share and publish code.


The knitr package for R allows us to create readable documents from R Markdown files.

R Markdown script (left) and the HTML produced from the knit R Markdown script (right). Source: National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

The knitr package was designed to be a transparent engine for dynamic report generation with R -- Yihui Xi -- knitr package creator

In the next tutorial we will learn more about working with the R Markdown format in RStudio.

Dialog content.