7 min read

R is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for programmers, scientists, and others who need to perform statistical analysis and data mining. In part this is because R is incredibly easy to learn and with just a few commands you can perform data mining and analysis functions that would be very hard in more general purpose languages like Ruby, .Net, Java, or C++. To demonstrate R’s ease, flexibility, and power we will look at how to use R to look at a collection of tweets from the 2014 super bowl, clear up data via R, turn that data it a document matrix so we can analyze the data, then create a “word cloud” so we can visualize our analysis to look for interesting words.

Getting Started

To get started you need to download both R and R studio. R can be found here and RStudio can be found here. R and RStudio are available for most major operating systems and you should follow the up to date installation guides on their respective websites. For this example we are going to be using a data set from Techtunk which is rather large. For this article I have taken a small excerpt of techtrunks SuperBowl 2014, over 8 million tweets, and cleaned it up for the article. You can download it from the original data source here. Finally you will need to install the R packages text mining package (tm ) and word cloud package (wordcloud). You can use standard library method to install the packages or just use RStudio to install the packets.

Preparing our Data

As already stated you can find the total SuperBowl 2014 dataset. That being said, it’s very large and broken up into many sets of Pipe Delimited files, and they have the .csv file extension but are not .csv, which can be somewhat awkward to work with. This though is a common problem when working with large data sets. Luckily the data set is broken up into fragments in that usually when you are working with large datasets you do not want to try to start developing against the whole data set rather a small and workable dataset the will let you quickly develop your scripts without being so large and unwieldy that it delays development. Indeed you will find that working the large files provided by Techtunk can take 10’s of minutes to process as is. In cases like this is good to look at the data, figure out what data you want, take a sample set of data, massage it as needed, and then work in it from there until you have your coding working exactly how you want. In our cases I took a subset of 4600 tweets from one of the pipe delimited files, converted the file format to Commas Separated Value, .csv, and saved it as a sample file to work from. You can do the same thing, you should consider using files smaller than 5000 records, however you would like or use the file created for this post here.

Visualizing our Data

For this post all we want to do is get a general sense of what the more common words are that are being tweeted during the superbowl. A common way to visualize this is with a word cloud which will show us the frequency of a term by representing it in greater size to other words in comparison to how many times it is mentioned in the body of tweets being analyzed. To do this we need to a few things first with our data.

First we need to create read in our file and turn our collection of tweets into a Corpus. In general a Corpus is a large body of text documents. In R’s textming package it’s an object that will be used to hold our tweets in memory. So to load our tweets as a corpus into R you can do as shown here:

# change this file location to suit your machine
file_loc <- "yourfilelocation/largerset11.csv"

# change TRUE to FALSE if you have no column headings in the CSV
myfile <- read.csv(file_loc, header = TRUE, stringsAsFactors=FALSE)

mycorpus <- Corpus(DataframeSource(myfile[c("username","tweet")]))

You can now simply print your Corpus to get a sense of it.

> print(mycorpus)
<<VCorpus (documents: 4688, metadata (corpus/indexed): 0/0)>>

In this case, VCorpus is an automatic assignment meaning that the Corpus is a Volatile object stored in memory. If you want you can make the Corpus permanent using PCorpus. You might do this if you were doing analysis on actual documents such as PDF’s or even databases and in this case R makes pointers to the documents instead of full document structures in memory.

Another method you can use to look at your corpus is inspect() which provides a variety of ways to look at the documents in your corpus. For example using:


This might give you a result like:

> inspect(mycorpus[1:2])
<<VCorpus (documents: 2, metadata (corpus/indexed): 0/0)>>

<<PlainTextDocument (metadata: 7)>>
wow rt thestanchion    news fleury just made  fraudulent investment  karlsson httptco5oi6iwashg

<<PlainTextDocument (metadata: 7)>>
2 hour wait   train  superbowl time   traffic problemsnice job chris christie

As such inspect can be very useful in quickly getting a sense of data in your corpus without having to try to print the whole corpus.

Now that we have our corpus in memory let’s clean it up a little before we do our analysis. Usually you want to do this on documents that you are analyzing to remove words that are not relevant to your analysis such as “stopwords” or words such as and, like, but, if, the, and the like which you don’t care about. To do this with the textmining package you want to use transforms. Transforms essentially various functions to all documents in a corpus and that the form of tm_map(your corpus, some function). For example we can use tm_map like this:

mycorpus <- tm_map(mycorpus, removePunctuation)

Which will now remove all the punctuation marks from our tweets. We can do some other transforms to clean up our data by converting all the text to lower case, removing stop words, extra whitespace, and the like.

mycorpus <- tm_map(mycorpus, removePunctuation)
mycorpus <- tm_map(mycorpus, content_transformer(tolower))
mycorpus <- tm_map(mycorpus, stripWhitespace)
mycorpus <- tm_map(mycorpus, removeWords, c(stopwords("english"), "news"))

Note the last line. In that case we are using the stopwords() method but also adding our own word to it; news. You could append your own list of stopwords in this manner.


In this post we have looked at the basics of doing text mining in R by selecting data, preparing it, cleaning, then performing various operations on it to visualize that data. In the next post, Part 2, we look at a simple use case showing how we can derive real meaning and value from a visualization by seeing how a simple word cloud and help you understand the impact of an advertisement.

About the author

Robi Sen, CSO at Department 13, is an experienced inventor, serial entrepreneur, and futurist whose dynamic twenty-plus year career in technology, engineering, and research has led him to work on cutting edge projects for DARPA, TSWG, SOCOM, RRTO, NASA, DOE, and the DOD. Robi also has extensive experience in the commercial space, including the co-creation of several successful start-up companies. He has worked with companies such as UnderArmour, Sony, CISCO, IBM, and many others to help build out new products and services. Robi specializes in bringing his unique vision and thought process to difficult and complex problems allowing companies and organizations to find innovative solutions that they can rapidly operationalize or go to market with.


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