Tips and Tricks in RStudio

Several tips to save time and improve quality of life while working in RStudio.
quarto
tips
shortcuts
Author

Stefania Noerman

Published

April 3, 2023

Modified

February 9, 2024

We recorded this session but the audio for some reason didn’t save, so we don’t have a YouTube link to provide.

Here are some tips and tricks we covered in this session to save time and improve quality of life while working in RStudio. Let’s start!

But first, since some of the tips require an R Project, we need to create a new one and save it somewhere on the computer.

Using the Command Palette

The Command Palette is a very useful tool to use in RStudio. You access it by typing Ctrl-Shift-P (for “palette”). It will pop up a text box where you can type text in.

Let’s make a new Quarto document with it by typing “new quarto”. Select the first item that shows up in the Palette. This will open a box to choose how to create the draft Quarto document. Give a title to it then click Create.

Quality of life options

R is meant to reduce repetition and improve reproducibility. But, changing some things may even improve your quality of life. Here are some Global Options that can help improving the quality of life in coding with R:

  1. Under “Tools -> Global Options -> Code -> Display”, under Syntax section, check the boxes for highlight R function calls and use rainbow parentheses. The second is especially useful to mark if we have equal number of opening and closing brackets.

  2. Under “Tools -> Global Options -> Code -> Saving”, check the boxes under Auto-save written always save R script before sourcing and automatically save when editor loses focus. When editor is idle, make sure to choose backup unsaved changes, to make sure that you don’t lose anything you are working on if your laptop breaks or you spills your coffee, for example.

  3. Under “Tools -> Global Options -> Accessibility”, check the box saying highlight focused panel. This selection will help highlighting the pane you are in, either you are in script or console pane.

For R Project specific options, specifically for making standardized Markdown in R Markdown and Quarto documents look tidier and more organized, you can do:

  1. Why did we create new project? Because we want to make the script looks tidier. And how do we do this? In Tools -> Project Options -> R Markdown, choose column for automatic text wrapping (line breaks).

The .Rprofile

The .Rprofile is a file that stores some basic code that R runs everytime it restarts. This is a great place to add some code that you might use everytime you start using R. For instance, the usethis package has a lot of workflow and interactive functions you might use while working on an analysis. Instead of typing usethis:: everytime to access the functions in usethis, you can load usethis by having it in the .Rprofile. In fact, usethis has a function to help you with this:

usethis::use_usethis()

Type this in the Console and follow the directions it provides.

Keyboard shortcuts

Did you notice that using your keyboard and mouse alternately may not be as efficient as using only keyboard? Here are some tips to save some times while improving your code.

  1. You can move from the R Console to R script or Quarto document quickly without touching your mouse by pressing Ctrl-1. Then, you can use Ctrl-2 to shift to the Console.

  2. Make heavy use of the Command Palette (Ctrl-Shift-P) to complete tasks while working in RStudio, for example:

    • To insert a new code chunk in your Quarto document, you can type in the Palette “insert chunk”.

      ```{r}
      #| echo: true
      ```

      This is how a chunk looks like. You can run this chunk separately by clicking the play button on the top right corner.

    • To add comments to a function, you can type “Roxygen comment” into the Palette while the cursor is in a function and it will automatically add a template structure for writing a comment about your function.

Snippets

Snippets are a way to make a shortcut for inserting text based on a “code”.

To find the snippets and edit them, use the Palette (Ctrl-Shift-P) and type “edit snippets”. There you will find some predefined snippets. You can also create your own.

For instance, when in an R script (or code chunk), typing “fun” followed by pressing Tab, a template for a function will be inserted that looks like:

name <- function(variables) {
    
}

You can just fill in the name of the function, then press Tab to move to the variables, change the name, then press Tab again to move to the function code area and write your function without moving your fingers from the keyboard.

Vim keybindings (advanced)

This is an advanced tip for becoming more effective at writing and coding. This tip is to learn to use Vim keybindings. Vim is a text editor that has a unique way of typing by inside different “modes”. When in the “command mode”, keys on your keyboard do actions. For instance, hitting the “j” key moves the cursor down one line. Hitting “2j” moves the cursor down two lines. When you hit the “i” key, you enter the “edit mode”, meaning that the keys will now enter into the document like normal. To get back to “command mode”, you would hit “Esc”.

Learning Vim keybindings has a steep learning curve, but is a major investment in your work if you plan for your career to involve a lot of working on the computer and typing on the keyboard. But learning it will save a lot of time to give commands by typing your code. So it is like coding while coding, sounds cool, right? How do you do it in RStudio? Under “Tools -> Global Options -> Code -> Keybindings”, you can use Vim. After Vim is activated, the cursor will change to blinking red block in the script pane. When the cursor looks like that, it means it is in the “command mode”. When in the “edit mode”, the cursor is a blinking black line.

Here are some other examples of :

  • “u” to undo
  • “d” to delete
  • “d2w” to delete 2 words
  • “d/p” to delete until the next “p” (or whatever letter you want)
  • “k” to go up
  • “j” to go down
  • “i” will make the cursor go to “edit/insert mode” so you can insert text
  • “Esc” to go back to the command mode

If you want to go back to normal, you can simply deactivate the keybindings in the Global Options to default mode.