Artificial IntelligenceMachine LearningTechnology

Surprisingly Powerful Data Set Exploration Techniques For Rookies

If you are new to data science, it is daunting and overwhelming to get started with understanding the contents of any dataset amid the ocean of datasets existing today. Every second that ocean expands further.

It is imperative every rookie in data science familiarize themselves with the very basic techniques of exploring datasets because it is the fuel that powers AI.

Working on a machine learning project without first of all understanding the dataset you are working with, is like trying to build a skyscraper without a blueprint. Think about that for a second.

In today’s article, I will share a couple of basic yet powerful exploration techniques that you can apply to almost any dataset.

These techniques will help you break through datasets. Not only that, you will have a holistic understanding of the dataset you are working with.

These should be enough to activate the flow of dopamine in your system so that you can frictionlessly complete your machine learning project while having fun.

Okay, enough of the talk. Let’s get to it.


For this article, we will be using Pandas which is one of the most popular data structure libraries for machine learning. It has many interesting built-in functions which we will be exploring shortly.

Some people use pandas together with Matplotlib and Seaborn statistical data visualization purposes. Feel free to check them out.

For those who have never used Pandas library before do not break a sweat over it. I wrote this article with you in mind.

In order to use the pandas library, we first need to install it.

pip install pandas

I am using Jupiter notebook to run all the codes in this article. If you don’t have a Jupiter notebook setup yet. I got you covered. Check out the Datacamp site

At the end of this article, I will share a link to my GitHub page where you can access the complete notebook. So stay frosty till the end.

Import Relevant Libraries

To have access to the amazing Pandas functions, we need to import it into our code. I imported it with the alias pd. Pandas is built upon NumPy which is very useful for mathematical operations

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np

Load Dataset into Memory.

The pandas .read_csv() method reads the dataset file and saves it as a pandas Dataframe object. Think of a dataframe as a table with labels rows and columns. Here I am using the COVID-19 Dataset from Kaggle

dataset = pd.read_csv(‘./datasets/corona-virus-report/covid_19.csv’)

At the end of the article, I will provide links to all the different datasets I used in this article. So fret about it.

Display the Number of Samples (Observations) in Dataset.

For any dataset you come across, it is important to know the number of data points or training examples present in your dataset. This is simply the number of rows and columns.

#check number of rows and colums in the dataset

rows, columns = dataset.shape
print(“Number of Samples: ” , rows)
print(“Number of Attributes or Features” , columns)

If you interesting in knowing just the number of rows, just do this.

#Prints the number of datapoints(rows)

Take a Quick Peek at the Contents of your Dataset

What exactly is the content of your dataset? Pandas head() and tail() helps you with that. By default head() prints the first 5 rows and tail() the last 5 rows of your dataset.

pd.dataset.head() # List the first 10 rows of dataset

#displays the last 5 rows of your dataset

You can as well specify the number of rows you want to display by passing the number as an argument to the functions.

#prints the first 10 rows
pd.dataset.head(10) # List the first 10 rows of dataset

#displays the last 10 rows of your dataset

Sometimes your dataset will have a large number of columns such that you won’t be able to view them all. Unless you are working with a gigantic computer screen. Luckily, with the code snippet below, you can scroll left and right to see everything. Cool right?

#permits all the attributes(columns) to be displayed
pd.set_option(“display.max_columns” , None) #permits all the attributes(columns) to be displayed

Display Interesting Statistical Information.

Let’s take a step further into gaining some statistical insights into our dataset. Personally, the .describe() method is a must-know function.

It provides some invaluable statistical information such as count, [mean, standard deviation, etc of each of the numeric columns found in our dataset.

dataset = pd.describe()

count row can be especially useful as it gives a clue of any missing values in your data that could negatively affect the performance of your machine learning model.

Removing Irrelevant Columns

In building a machine learning model, some features or columns might have zero contribution to the performance of the prediction. You can eliminate any unwanted column by using the snippet below. *Axis* specifies that it is a column.

I dropped the Lat and Long columns in the COVID-19 dataset

clean_dataset = dataset.drop([‘Lat’ , ‘Long’], axis = 1)

Note: It is good practice to assign the modified dataset to a new variable.

Number of Unique Samples in Dataset

This next code snippet is often very useful in machine learning especially when we are dealing with classification problems. It helps you to know the number of samples that belong to a particular category. An example is shown below


Renaming Weird Column Names

Datasets can be messy at times with weird column names given by the creators of the datasets. You don’t have to stick with these. If you don’t like it, just change it like so.

#list of column names
new_col_names = [‘ID’ , ‘Region’ , ‘Country’ , ‘Latitude’, ‘Longitude’ , ‘Dates’ , ‘Confirmed_Cases’ , ‘Fatal’]

# assign the names to your dataset
dataset.columns = new_col_names

Sometimes, you just need to change that specific column name that sounds like gibberish to your ears. Just do this.

dataset.rename(columns = {‘old_col_name’: ‘new_col_name’}, inplace = True)

Histogram Plot.

Let’s spice things up a little, with visualizations. The first and most commonly use visualization tool is the histogram. We can optionally pass bin size as the only argument. That’s it.


For demonstration purposes, I am also using the Iris dataset to show interesting plots. The link is included at the end of the article.

If you are curious and interested in visualizing the histogram plots of all your features, you can generate multiple plots as indicated below. Subplot creates a histogram plot for each column and layout specifies the number of a plot per row and column.

dataset.plot.hist(subplots = True, layout = (2,2) , figsize = (10,10) , bins = 20)

Bar Plot

This is an interesting visualization tool. However, in order to plot a bar chart using the method, we need to first count the occurrences using the value_count() method and then sort the occurrences from smallest to largest using the sort_index() method.

#vertical barchart

#horizontal bar chart


Here is a great example of the bar plot in the COVID-19 dataset. First group data by country, then calculate the mean of confirmed cases and sort in ascending other. Finally, plot a bar chart of the 10 countries with the most number of confirmed cases.

Scatter plot

Last but far from least is the scatter plot. Generally used to show the relationship between 2 columns or features in your dataset. Note that only numeric columns can be plotted.

## Scatter Plot
dataset.plot.scatter(x=’petal width’, y=’petal length’, title=’Iris Dataset’)

Other Plots

There exist other interesting plots which I decided not to cover in this post. However, I will mention these here with appropriate links for easy exploration.

Bonus Tip

I came across this article published by towards data science written by Brenda Hali titled My Pandas Cheat Sheet and I found it very helpful. I think it contains very useful and handy pandas functions you will frequently find yourself in need of.

The Takeaway

No matter the dataset you came across on the internet, these simple data exploratory techniques should be the very first idea that runs to your mind. It will permit you to have a clue of what you are dealing with.

Understanding the contents, and relationships of a dataset will help you to decide if it is going to be useful for the project you are working on or it’s a total waste of time.

When you implement these pandas techniques outlined in this post, the battle is already half when it has not started yet. Trust me, It will save you a lot of time and headaches.

Thanks for reading and hopefully it was helpful. If you have other interesting functions you think I and others should know about please, do not hesitate to leave a comment. Let’s learn and grow together.

If you loved this post, feel free to read some amazing post on my blog


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