Continuing from my previous post on the calculations to do when conducting Exploratory Data Analysis, in  this blog post, I am going to discuss how to use visual to explore our  data better.

To reiterate here, the two main benefits of doing a good EDA is:

  1. Have  a good understanding of data quality. We need high quality data to  build good models. I told most of my students and trainees that data is  never clean. We only get it to a quality level that we can use.
  2. Gain  some quick insights into the project. Understand what are the potential  drivers for supervised learning or possible patterns. These insights  can be quick-wins to get more buy-in from other stakeholders.

Assumptions: In  this discussion, I am assuming that the readers have some background on  variables (understand what is Categorical Variable or Continuous  Variable) and basic summary statistics such as mean, median, mode and  statistical distributions.

In the visual exploration of the data, there are two things we are looking at:

1 — Distribution of values in a single variable.

2 — Relationship between two variables.

1 — Distribution of Values in a SINGLE Variable

Categorical Variable

To explore a categorical variable, we can plot a frequency bar chart.

Created from Tableau Public (Superstore.xls)

So when we are exploring a single categorical variable, we are looking for the following:

a. What is the most popular and least popular category?

b. Are there any values that is not expected to be there?

c. Is any frequency of certain categories seems lower/higher than expected?

d. Is there any categorical value that is not supposed to be there?

The questions are meant to check for data quality and if the data can be “trusted” to reflect the reality.

Continuous Variable

From Wikipedia

Histogram  is the visual that I use to understand the distribution of continuous  variable. Before one attempts to create the histogram, the continuous  variables need to be binned first (i.e. create bins). For instance, age  is continuous and we can bin it into 0–5, 5–10, 10–15… Once we bin it,  we plot the frequency of the underlying value in the bin.

There  is an art and science to binning actually, and if you do not set the  bin’s width carefully, you can missed out important information. For  instance, when the bin width is smaller, the distribution may show to be  bi-modal (2 or more modes) but when the bin width is large, it becomes  single-modal. Thus choose your bin width carefully and preferably start  from a smaller bin width.

From  the visual, we are looking at the skew-ness and kurtosis. The skew-ness  is very important especially if you are going to use it as a feature or  target for your regression models, as there is an assumption that the  features and target is normally distributed to get BLUE (Best Linear  Unbiased Estimate) of the coefficient/parameters. Doing the histogram,  allows for better planning of data cleaning later on.

2 — Relationship Between Two Variables

Categorical vs Categorical

To  understand the relationship between two categorical variables, meaning  which unique groups has the largest size, we can use a heat-map with  each categorical variable as the rows and columns and the frequency of  each group represented by the size of the rectangle or square. Example  below:

Created from Tableau Public (Superstore.xls)

The  questions that you asked about heat-map is similar to those that you  asked for the frequency bar chart (mentioned above). It is to see the  interaction of the different categorical value and also whether the  numbers presented makes sense or not and if it does not, what is the  reason for it and is the reason reasonable.

Usually  by asking the right questions and matching it with expectations, more  non-data discoveries can be made like when a marketing campaign was  conducted, and who is the target market for the last month etc. You can  discover a lot about your business from it.

Continuous vs Continuous

Source: Wikipedia

Scatter  plots are great visual tools to looking at the relationship between two  continuous variables. What you are looking for is how the data points  are positioned across the plane/graph. Questions that you asked are for  instance:

a. How are the data points distributed in the 2-D plane? Do they form a pattern/line?

b.  What kind of relationship between the two continuous variable? Positive  or negative? Linear or non-linear (quadratic or cubic)?

c.  Are there clusters/groups of them? Are they distinct, far apart from  each other or they are quite close? What are the characteristics of  these clusters?

No  doubt we can use correlation to find out if the two continuous  variables have positive or negative relationship but it will never  reveal the full details of the relationship without having a look at the  scatter plot.

Another  advantage of scatter plot is that it allows we humans to digest very  large amount of data. Imagine the data that is used to create the above  scatter plot has increase by another 5000 observations, and thus we add  in another 5000 data points to the above scatter plot. Most of us will  still be able to discern if there is a relationship and the kind of  relationship the two continuous variables has.

Continuous vs Categorical

From Wikipedia

To  look at the relationship between continuous and categorical variable,  we have the box plot to help us with that. Questions that can be asked  are:

a. Which category has the highest mean/media?

b. Which category is normally distributed and which is not?

c. Which category has a wider range and distribution?

d. Which category hast outliers?

e. Distribution (left-skewed or right skewed) for each category?

Box  plots becomes easier to read and interpret with lots of practice thus  for those that started out can be a small hurdle to overcome. The more  challenging box plots to read and interpret are those that has many  unique categorical values. This is where the box plot gets wider and it  can be difficult to make comparison between two categorical  values/groups. Suggestion is to use filters to make the box plot  “smaller” so that comparison can be made easily.


The purpose of writing these two posts on Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA), non-visual and visual, is to help anyone who is looking to do better on their EDA,  so that they can build robust machine learning models that are useful  for their organization.

I hope the post has been useful to you. Feedback are welcome too as I look to improve my own EDA process.

Do consider signing for my newsletter, to be updated with what I am doing. Else we can stay in touch on LinkedIn or Twitter. :)