Exploratory Data Analysis; Much Time & Effort?

mccurcio profile image Matt Curcio Updated on ・1 min read

Kind Ladies & Gentlemen of Data Science,

I am curious about your datascience work flow. In particular, how much time and effort do you spend on exploratory data analysis (EDA)? I have found that it is way too easy to write up a huge list of tests, tables, bar charts, histograms, etc. of R functions and produce pages and pages.

But what EDA do you find yourself focusing on most often?


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My exploratory work tends to fall in one of three categories:

  1. Diagnose what went wrong with this system.
  2. Estimate if this project is worth pursuing.
  3. Try to poke holes in a model before deploying it.

It's all goal directed against a mental model of what I'm doing. For (1), it's trying to eliminate swathes of the control flow and data flow of the system as quickly as possible. For (2), it's getting rough estimates of the economic impact of an idea. For (3), it's trying to find situations that will break a model, rather like the adversarial process a security researcher goes through.

Instead of writing up a huge list of things to explore, treat it the way Tukey did in his book Exploratory Data Analysis that started the field. You start with a data set, and sequentially ask questions about it and answer them as fast as possible, since often you can cut off a whole line of questioning at the very beginning with a quick check. (It's a great book, by the way...especially to see what he developed to do this kind of work by hand.)


Thanks Fred,
I have seen references to John Tukey's book in my reading. It does look interesting.


Hi Fred, I am curious. What other Data Science blogs or sites do you follow?


Hi Fred,
I am curious. What other Data Science blogs or sites do you follow?


At my workplace, we have many, many data sources. Some cleaned up nicely with metadata, others kinda cleaned up but with no way of knowing what means what, others are completely raw, granular and need a lot of work.

I take one day a week to do a deep dive into a dataset I'm not familiar with and get to know it really well. That way I know what I'm in for the next time I'm asked for something in relation to that table, bucket or file.

I've heard of teams doing EDA Saturdays once a month to dig into a data set each and then do a show and tell to share the knowledge.

It takes time, but is so worth it. If you don't know what the data is doing there is no way you can gain any insight from it.


Hi Helen,
I am curious. What other Data Science blogs or sites do you follow?


Hey Matt

I'm not a Data Scientist so don't follow anything specific to that area.

My favourites blogs at the moment are:

Data36 - data36.com/ for tutorials and hands-on learning.

Simple Analytical - simpleanalytical.com/ for commentary on being in the data world and the ups and downs of being an analyst.

Mode - mode.com/blog/ - content for analysts by analysts.

Soft Skills Engineering - softskills.audio/ - my favourite podcast advice show about non-technical topics.

Great, thank you very much.

I noticed that your profile says B.I. How different do you consider B.I. Is from D.S.?

In my workplace BI works on reports and models that show what has happened in the past and a little bit of forecasting.

The Data Scientists work on AI/ML/NLP sometimes using our models, sometimes using granular raw data


Interesting! I can see where a separate day (hopefully not my wkend ;)) would be useful.

But what statistical tests do you find yourself drawn to? Correlations, normality, or even boxplots?