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Coordinatized Data: A Fluid Data Specification

Authors: John Mount and Nina Zumel.


It has been our experience when teaching the data wrangling part of data science that students often have difficulty understanding the conversion to and from row-oriented and column-oriented data formats (what is commonly called pivoting and un-pivoting).

Real trust and understanding of this concept doesn’t fully form until one realizes that rows and columns are inessential implementation details when reasoning about your data. Many algorithms are sensitive to how data is arranged in rows and columns, so there is a need to convert between representations. However, confusing representation with semantics slows down understanding.

In this article we will try to separate representation from semantics. We will advocate for thinking in terms of coordinatized data, and demonstrate advanced data wrangling in R.

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