6 Feature engineering with recipes

Feature engineering encompasses activities that reformat predictor values to make them easier for a model to use effectively. This includes transformations and encodings of the data to best represent their important characteristics. Imagine that you have two predictors in a data set that can be more effectively represented in your model of interest as a ratio; creating a new predictor from the ratio of the original two is a simple example of feature engineering.

Take the location of a house in Ames as a more involved example. There are a variety of ways that this spatial information can be exposed to a model, including neighborhood (a qualitative measure), longitude/latitude, distance to the nearest school or Iowa State University, and so on. When choosing how to encode these data in modeling, we might choose an option we believe most associated with the outcome. The original format of the data, for example numeric (e.g., distance) versus categorical (e.g., neighborhood), is also a driving factor in feature engineering choices.

There are many other examples of preprocessing to build better features for modeling:

  • Correlation between predictors can be reduced via feature extraction or the removal of some predictors.

  • When some predictors have missing values, they can be imputed using a sub-model.

  • Models that use variance-type measures may benefit from coercing the distribution of some skewed predictors to be symmetric by estimating a transformation.

Feature engineering and data preprocessing can also involve reformatting required by the model. Some models use geometric distance metrics and, consequently, numeric predictors should be centered and scaled so that they are all in the same units. Otherwise, the distance values would be biased by the scale of each column.

Different models have different preprocessing requirements and some, such as tree-based models, require very little preprocessing at all. Appendix A contains a small table of recommended preprocessing techniques for different models.

In this chapter, we introduce the recipes package which you can use to combine different feature engineering and preprocessing tasks into a single object and then apply these transformations to different data sets.

This chapter uses the Ames housing data and the R objects created in the book so far, as summarized in Section 5.6.

6.1 A simple recipe for the Ames housing data

In this section, we will focus on a small subset of the predictors available in the Ames housing data:

  • The neighborhood (qualitative, with 29 neighborhoods in the training set)

  • The general living area (continuous, named Gr_Liv_Area)

  • The year built (Year_Built)

  • The type of building (Bldg_Type with values OneFam (\(n = 1,814\)), TwoFmCon (\(n = 45\)), Duplex (\(n = 76\)), Twnhs (\(n = 76\)), and TwnhsE (\(n = 188\)))

Suppose that an initial ordinary linear regression model were fit to these data. Recalling that, in Chapter 4, the sale prices were pre-logged, a standard call to lm() might look like:

lm(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + log10(Gr_Liv_Area) + Year_Built + Bldg_Type)

When this function is executed, the data are converted from a data frame to a numeric design matrix (also called a model matrix) and then the least squares method is used to estimate parameters. In Section 3.2 we listed the multiple purposes of the R model formula; let’s focus only on the data manipulation aspects for now. What the formula above does can be decomposed into a series of steps:

  1. Sale price is defined as the outcome while neighborhood, general living area, the year built, and building type variables are all defined as predictors.

  2. A log transformation is applied to the general living area predictor.

  3. The neighborhood and building type columns are converted from a non-numeric format to a numeric format (since least squares requires numeric predictors).

As mentioned in Chapter 3, the formula method will apply these data manipulations to any data, including new data, that are passed to the predict() function.

A recipe is also an object that defines a series of steps for data processing. Unlike the formula method inside a modeling function, the recipe defines the steps without immediately executing them; it is only a specification of what should be done. Here is a recipe equivalent to the formula above that builds on the code summary in Section 5.6:

library(tidymodels) # Includes the recipes package

simple_ames <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type,
         data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
#> Data Recipe
#> Inputs:
#>       role #variables
#>    outcome          1
#>  predictor          4
#> Operations:
#> Log transformation on Gr_Liv_Area
#> Dummy variables from all_nominal()

Let’s break this down:

  1. The call to recipe() with a formula tells the recipe the roles of the variables (e.g., predictor, outcome). It only uses the data to determine the data types for the columns.

  2. step_log() declares that Gr_Liv_Area should be log transformed.

  3. step_dummy() is used to specify which variables should be converted from a qualitative format to a quantitative format, in this case, using dummy or indicator variables. An indicator or dummy variable is a binary numeric variable (a column of ones and zeroes) that encodes qualitative information; we will dig deeper into these kinds of variables in Section 6.3.

The function all_nominal() captures the names of any columns that are currently factor or character (i.e., nominal) in nature. This is a dplyr selector function similar to starts_with() or matches() but can only be used inside of a recipe.

Other selectors specific to the recipes package are: all_numeric(), all_predictors(), and all_outcomes(). As with dplyr, one or more unquoted expressions, separated by commas, can be used to select which columns are affected by each step.

What is the advantage to using a recipe? There are a few, including:

  • These computations can be recycled across models since they are not tightly coupled to the modeling function.

  • A recipe enables a broader set of data processing choices than formulas can offer.

  • The syntax can be very compact. For example, all_nominal() can be used to capture many variables for specific types of processing while a formula would require each to be explicitly listed.

  • All data processing can be captured in a single R object instead of in scripts that are repeated, or even spread across different files.

6.2 Using recipes

Remember that when invoking the recipe() function, the steps are not estimated or executed in any way. The second phase for using a recipe is to estimate any quantities required by the steps using the prep() function. For example, we can use step_normalize() to center and scale any predictors selected in the step. When we call prep(recipe, training), this function estimates the required means and standard deviations from the data in the training argument. The transformations specified by each step are also sequentially executed on the data set. Again using normalization as the example, the means and variances are estimated and then used to standardize the columns.

When specifying a step, the data available to that step have been affected by the previous operations. There are some steps that may remove columns or change their data type, so use care when writing selectors downstream.

For our example recipe, we can now prep():

simple_ames <- prep(simple_ames, training = ames_train)
#> Data Recipe
#> Inputs:
#>       role #variables
#>    outcome          1
#>  predictor          4
#> Training data contained 2199 data points and no missing data.
#> Operations:
#> Log transformation on Gr_Liv_Area [trained]
#> Dummy variables from Neighborhood, Bldg_Type [trained]

Note that, after preparing the recipe, the print statement shows the results of the selectors (e.g., Neighborhood and Bldg_Type are listed instead of all_nominal).

One important argument to prep() is retain. When TRUE (the default), the prepared version of the training set is kept within the recipe. This data set has been pre-processed using all of the steps listed in the recipe. Since prep() has to execute the recipe as it proceeds, it may be advantageous to keep this version of the training set so that, if that data set is to be used later, redundant calculations can be avoided. However, if the training set is big, it may be problematic to keep such a large amount of data in memory. Use retain = FALSE to avoid this.

The third phase of recipe usage is to apply the preprocessing operations to a data set using the bake() function. The bake() function can apply the recipe to any data set. To use the test set, the syntax would be:

test_ex <- bake(simple_ames, new_data = ames_test)
names(test_ex) %>% head()
#> [1] "Gr_Liv_Area"                "Year_Built"                
#> [3] "Sale_Price"                 "Neighborhood_College_Creek"
#> [5] "Neighborhood_Old_Town"      "Neighborhood_Edwards"

Note the dummy variable columns starting with Neighborhood_. The bake() function can also take selectors so that, if we only wanted the neighborhood results, we could use:

bake(simple_ames, ames_test, starts_with("Neighborhood_"))

To get the processed version of the training set, we could use bake() and pass in the argument ames_train but, as previously mentioned, this would repeat calculations that have already been executed. Instead, we can use new_data = NULL to quickly return the training set (if retain = TRUE was used). It accesses the data component of the prepared recipe.

bake(simple_ames, new_data = NULL) %>% nrow()
#> [1] 2199
ames_train %>% nrow()
#> [1] 2199

To reiterate, using a recipe is a three phase process summarized as:

As we discuss in Chapter 8, there are high level functions that handle the second two phases automatically. In these cases, we do not have to manually use prep() and bake() to include a recipe in the modeling process.

6.3 Encoding qualitative data in a numeric format

One of the most common feature engineering tasks is transforming nominal or qualitative data (factors or characters) so that they can be encoded or represented numerically. Sometimes we can alter the factor levels of a qualitative column in helpful ways prior to such a transformation. For example, step_unknown() can be used to change missing values to a dedicated factor level. Similarly, if we anticipate that a new factor level may be encountered in future data, step_novel() can allot a new level for this purpose.

Additionally, step_other() can be used to analyze the frequencies of the factor levels in the training set and convert infrequently occurring values to a catch-all level of “other”, with a specific threshold that can be specified. A good example is the Neighborhood predictor in our data:

ggplot(ames_train, aes(y = Neighborhood)) + 
  geom_bar() + 
  labs(y = NULL)

Here there are two neighborhoods that have less than five properties in the training data; in this case, no houses at all in the Landmark neighborhood were included in the training set. For some models, it may be problematic to have dummy variables with a single non-zero entry in the column. At a minimum, it is highly improbable that these features would be important to a model. If we add step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) to our recipe, the bottom 1% of the neighborhoods will be lumped into a new level called “other”. In this training set, this will catch 9 neighborhoods.

For the Ames data, we can amend the recipe to use:

simple_ames <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type,
         data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 

Many, but not all, underlying model calculations require predictor values to be encoded as numbers. Notable exceptions include tree-based models, rule-based models, and naive Bayes models.

There are a few strategies for converting a factor predictor to a numeric format. The most common method is to create “dummy” or indicator variables. Let’s take the predictor in the Ames data for the building type, which is a factor variable with five levels. For dummy variables, the single Bldg_Type column would be replaced with four numeric columns whose values are either zero or one. These binary variables represent specific factor level values. In R, the convention is to exclude a column for the first factor level (OneFam, in this case). The Bldg_Type column would be replaced with a column called TwoFmCon that is one when the row has that value and zero otherwise. Three other columns are similarly created:

Raw Data TwoFmCon Duplex Twnhs TwnhsE
OneFam 0 0 0 0
TwoFmCon 1 0 0 0
Duplex 0 1 0 0
Twnhs 0 0 1 0
TwnhsE 0 0 0 1

Why not all five? The most basic reason is simplicity; if you know the value for these four columns, you can determine the last value because these are mutually exclusive categories. More technically, the classical justification is that a number of models, including ordinary linear regression, have numerical issues when there are linear dependencies between columns. If all five building type indicator columns are included, they would add up to the intercept column (if there is one). This would cause an issue, or perhaps an outright error, in the underlying matrix algebra.

The full set of encodings can be used for some models. This is traditionally called the “one-hot” encoding and can be achieved using the one_hot argument of step_dummy().

One helpful feature of step_dummy() is that there is more control over how the resulting dummy variables are named. In base R, dummy variable names mash the variable name with the level, resulting in names like NeighborhoodVeenker. Recipes, by default, use an underscore as the separator between the name and level (e.g., Neighborhood_Veenker) and there is an option to use custom formatting for the names. The default naming convention in recipes makes it easier to capture those new columns in future steps using a selector, such as starts_with("Neighborhood_").

Traditional dummy variables require that all of the possible categories be known to create a full set of numeric features. There are other methods for doing this transformation to a numeric format. Feature hashing methods only consider the value of the category to assign it to a predefined pool of dummy variables. This can be a good strategy when there are a large number of possible categories, but the statistical properties may not be optimal. For example, it may unnecessarily alias categories together (by assigning them to the same dummy variable). This reduces the specificity of the encoding and, if that dummy variable were important, it would be difficult to determine which of the categories is driving the effect.

Another method that is useful when there are a large number of categories is called effect or likelihood encodings. This method replaces the original data with a single numeric column that measures the effect of those data. For example, for the neighborhood predictor, the mean sale price is computed for each neighborhood and these means are substituted for the original data values. This can be effective but should be used with care. In effect, a mini-model is being added to the actual model and this can lead to over-fitting. To be cautious, this type of encoding should be rigorously resampled (see Chapter 10). Within a recipe, the embed package has several step functions, such as step_lencode_mixed(), for effect encodings. Both feature hashing and effect encoding methods can also seamlessly handle situations where a novel factor level is encountered in the data.

Sometimes qualitative columns can be ordered, such as “low”, “medium”, “high”. In base R, the default encoding strategy is to make new numeric columns that are polynomial expansions of the data. For columns that have five ordinal values, the factor column would be replaced with columns for linear, quadratic, cubic, and quartic terms:

Raw Data Linear Quadratic Cubic Quartic
none -0.63 0.53 -0.32 0.12
a little -0.32 -0.27 0.63 -0.48
some 0.00 -0.53 0.00 0.72
a bunch 0.32 -0.27 -0.63 -0.48
copious amounts 0.63 0.53 0.32 0.12

While this is not unreasonable, it is not an approach that people tend to find useful. For example, a 11-degree polynomial is probably not the most effective way of encoding an ordinal factor for months. Instead, consider trying recipe steps related to ordered factors, such as step_unorder(), to convert to regular factors, and step_ordinalscore() which maps specific numeric values to each factor level.

Different recipe steps can have different effects on columns of the data. For example, step_log() modifies a column in-place without changing the name. Other steps, such as step_dummy() eliminate the original data column and replace it with one or more columns with different names. This behavior depends on the type of operation being done.

6.4 Interaction terms

Interaction effects involve two or more predictors. Such an effect occurs when one predictor has an effect on the outcome that is contingent on one or more other predictors. For example, if you were trying to predict your morning commute time, two potential predictors could be the amount of traffic and the time of day. However, the relationship between commute time and the amount of traffic is different for different times of day. In this case, you could add an interaction term between the two predictors to the model along with the original two predictors (which are called the “main effects”). Numerically, an interaction term between predictors is encoded as their product. Interactions are only defined in terms of their effect on the outcome and can be combinations of different types of data (e.g., numeric, categorical, etc). Chapter 7 of Kuhn and Johnson (2020) discusses interactions and how to detect them in greater detail.

After exploring the Ames training set, we might find that the regression slopes for the general living area differ for different building types:

ggplot(ames_train, aes(x = Gr_Liv_Area, y = 10^Sale_Price)) + 
  geom_point(alpha = .2) + 
  facet_wrap(~ Bldg_Type) + 
  geom_smooth(method = lm, formula = y ~ x, se = FALSE, col = "red") + 
  scale_x_log10() + 
  scale_y_log10() + 
  labs(x = "General Living Area", y = "Sale Price (USD)")

How are interactions specified in a recipe? A base R formula would take an interaction using a :, so we would use:

Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + log10(Gr_Liv_Area) + Bldg_Type + log10(Gr_Liv_Area):Bldg_Type
# or
Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + log10(Gr_Liv_Area) * Bldg_Type 

where * expands those columns to the main effects and interaction term. Again, the formula method does many things simultaneously and understands that a factor variable (such as Bldg_Type) should be expanded into dummy variables first and that the interaction should involve all of the resulting binary columns.

Recipes are more explicit and sequential, and give you more control. With the current recipe, step_dummy() has already created dummy variables. How would we combine these for an interaction? The additional step would look like step_interact(~ interaction terms) where the terms on the right-hand side of the tilde are the interactions. These can include selectors, so it would be appropriate to use:

simple_ames <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type,
         data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 
  step_dummy(all_nominal()) %>% 
  # Gr_Liv_Area is on the log scale from a previous step
  step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:starts_with("Bldg_Type_") )

Additional interactions can be specified in this formula by separating them by +. Also note that the recipe will only utilize interactions between different variables; if the formula uses var_1:var_1, this term will be ignored.

Suppose that, in a recipe, we had not yet made dummy variables for building types. It would be inappropriate to include a factor column in this step, such as:

 step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:Bldg_Type )

This is telling the underlying (base R) code used by step_interact() to make dummy variables and then form the interactions. In fact, if this occurs, a warning states that this might generate unexpected results.

This behavior gives you more control, but is different from R’s standard model formula.

As with naming dummy variables, recipes provides more coherent names for interaction terms. In this case, the interaction is named Gr_Liv_Area_x_Bldg_Type_Duplex instead of Gr_Liv_Area:Bldg_TypeDuplex (which is not a valid column name for a data frame).

Order matters. The general living area is log transformed prior to the interaction term. Subsequent interactions with this variable will also use the log scale.

6.5 Skipping steps for new data

The sale price data are already log transformed in the ames data frame. Why not use:

 step_log(Sale_Price, base = 10)

This will cause a failure when the recipe is applied to new properties when the sale price is not known. Since price is what we are trying to predict, there probably won’t be a column in the data for this variable. In fact, to avoid information leakage, many tidymodels packages isolate the data being used when making any predictions. This means that the training set and any outcome columns are not available for use at prediction time.

For simple transformations of the outcome column(s), we strongly suggest that those operations be conducted outside of the recipe.

However, there are other circumstances where this is not an adequate solution. For example, in classification models where there is a severe class imbalance, it is common to conduct subsampling of the data that are given to the modeling function. For example, suppose that there were two classes and a 10% event rate. A simple, albeit controversial, approach would be to down-sample the data so that the model is provided with all of the events and a random 10% of the non-event samples.

The problem is that the same subsampling process should not be applied to the data being predicted. As a result, when using a recipe, we need a mechanism to ensure that some operations are only applied to the data that are given to the model. Each step function has an option called skip that, when set to TRUE, will be ignored by the bake() function used with a data set argument. In this way, you can isolate the steps that affect the modeling data without causing errors when applied to new samples. However, all steps are applied when using bake(new_data = NULL).

At the time of this writing, the step functions in the recipes and themis packages that are only applied to the modeling data are: step_adasyn(), step_bsmote(), step_downsample(), step_filter(), step_nearmiss(), step_rose(), step_sample(), step_slice(), step_smote(), step_tomek(), and step_upsample().

6.6 Other examples of recipe steps

Spline functions

When a predictor has a nonlinear relationship with the outcome, some types of predictive models can adaptively approximate this relationship during training. However, simpler is usually better and it is not uncommon to try to use a simple model, such as a linear fit, and add in specific non-linear features for predictors that may need them. One common method for doing this is to use spline functions to represent the data. Splines replace the existing numeric predictor with a set of columns that allow a model to emulate a flexible, non-linear relationship. As more spline terms are added to the data, the capacity to non-linearly represent the relationship increases. Unfortunately, it may also increase the likelihood of picking up on data trends that occur by chance (i.e., over-fitting).

If you have ever used geom_smooth() within a ggplot, you have probably used a spline representation of the data. For example, each panel below uses a different number of smooth splines for the latitude predictor:


plot_smoother <- function(deg_free) {
  ggplot(ames_train, aes(x = Latitude, y = Sale_Price)) + 
    geom_point(alpha = .2) + 
    scale_y_log10() +
      method = lm,
      formula = y ~ ns(x, df = deg_free),
      col = "red",
      se = FALSE
    ) +
    ggtitle(paste(deg_free, "Spline Terms"))

( plot_smoother(2) + plot_smoother(5) ) / ( plot_smoother(20) + plot_smoother(100) )

The ns() function in the splines package generates feature columns using functions called natural splines.

Some panels clearly fit poorly; two terms under-fit the data while 100 terms over-fit. The panels with five and 20 terms seem like reasonably smooth fits that catch the main patterns of the data. This indicates that the proper amount of “non-linear-ness” matters. The number of spline terms could then be considered a tuning parameter for this model. These types of parameters are explored in Chapter 12.

In recipes, there are multiple steps that can create these types of terms. To add a natural spline representation for this predictor:

recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type + Latitude,
         data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 
  step_dummy(all_nominal()) %>% 
  step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:starts_with("Bldg_Type_") ) %>% 
  step_ns(Latitude, deg_free = 20)

The user would need to determine if both neighborhood and latitude should be in the model since they both represent the same underlying data in different ways.

Feature extraction

Another common method for representing multiple features at once is called feature extraction. Most of these techniques create new features from the predictors that capture the information in the broader set as a whole. For example, principal component analysis (PCA) tries to extract as much of the original information in the predictor set as possible using a smaller number of features. PCA is a linear extraction method, meaning that each new feature is a linear combination of the original predictors. One nice aspect of PCA is that each of the new features, called the principal components or PCA scores, are uncorrelated with one another. Because of this, PCA can be very effective at reducing the correlation between predictors. Note that PCA is only aware of the predictors; the new PCA features might not be associated with the outcome.

In the Ames data, there are several predictors that measure size of the property, such as the total basement size (Total_Bsmt_SF), size of the first floor (First_Flr_SF), the general living area (Gr_Liv_Area), and so on. PCA might be an option to represent these potentially redundant variables as a smaller feature set. Apart from the general living area, these predictors have the suffix SF in their names (for square feet) so a recipe step for PCA might look like:

  # Use a regular expression to capture house size predictors: 

Note that all of these columns are measured in square feet. PCA assumes that all of the predictors are on the same scale. That’s true in this case, but often this step can be preceded by step_normalize(), which will center and scale each column.

There are existing recipe steps for other extraction methods, such as: independent component analysis (ICA), non-negative matrix factorization (NNMF), multidimensional scaling (MDS), uniform manifold approximation and projection (UMAP), and others.

Row sampling steps

Recipe steps can affect the rows of a data set as well. For example, the previously mentioned subsampling technique for class imbalances will change the data being given to the model. There are several possible approaches to try:

  • Downsampling the data keeps the minority class and takes a random sample of the majority class so that class frequencies are balanced.

  • Upsampling replicates samples from the minority class to balance the classes. Some techniques do this by synthesizing new samples that resemble the minority class data while other methods simply add the same minority samples repeatedly.

  • Hybrid methods do a combination of both.

The themis package has recipe steps the can be used for this purpose. For simple down-sampling, we would use:


Only the training set should be affected by these techniques. The test set or other holdout samples should be left as-is when processed using the recipe. For this reason, all of the subsampling steps default the skip argument to have a value of TRUE (Section 6.5).

There are other step functions that are row-based as well: step_filter(), step_sample(), step_slice(), and step_arrange(). In almost all uses of these steps, the skip argument should be set to TRUE.

General transformations

Mirroring the original dplyr operations, step_mutate() and step_mutate_at() can be used to conduct a variety of basic operations to the data.

Natural language processing

Recipes can also handle data that are not in the traditional structure where the columns are features. For example, the textrecipes package can apply natural language processing methods to the data. The input column is typically a string of text and different steps can be used to tokenize the data (e.g., split the text into separate words), filter out tokens, and create new features appropriate for modeling.

6.7 How data are used by the recipe

Data are given to recipes at different stages. When calling recipe(..., data), the data set is used to determine the data types of each column so that selectors such as all_numeric() can be used. When preparing the data using prep(recipe, training), the data in training are used for all estimation operations, from determining factor levels to computing PCA components and everything in between. It is important to realize that all preprocessing and feature engineering steps only utilize the training data. Otherwise, information leakage can negatively impact the model.

When using bake(recipe, new_data), no quantities are re-estimated using the values in new_data. Take centering and scaling using step_normalize() as an example. Using this step, the means and standard deviations from the appropriate columns are determined from the training set; new samples are standardized using these values when bake() is invoked.

6.8 Using a recipe with traditional modeling functions

In Chapters 8 and 12, we introduce high-level interfaces that take a recipe as an input argument and automatically handle the prep()/bake() process of preparing data for modeling. However, recipes can be used with traditional R modeling functions as well; this section shows how to use a recipe outside those high-level interfaces.

Let’s use a slightly augmented version of the last recipe, now including longitude:

ames_rec <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type + 
           Latitude + Longitude, data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 
  step_dummy(all_nominal()) %>% 
  step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:starts_with("Bldg_Type_") ) %>% 
  step_ns(Latitude, Longitude, deg_free = 20)

To get the recipe ready, we prepare it, and then extract the training set using bake() with new_data = NULL. When calling prep(), if the training argument is not given, it uses the data that was initially given to the recipe() function call.

ames_rec_prepped <- prep(ames_rec)
ames_train_prepped <- bake(ames_rec_prepped, new_data = NULL)
ames_test_prepped <- bake(ames_rec_prepped, ames_test)

# Fit the model; Note that the column Sale_Price has already been
# log transformed.
lm_fit <- lm(Sale_Price ~ ., data = ames_train_prepped)

The broom package has methods that make it easier to work with model objects. First, broom::glance() shows a succinct summary of the model in a handy tibble format:

#> # A tibble: 1 x 12
#>   r.squared adj.r.squared  sigma statistic p.value    df logLik    AIC    BIC
#>       <dbl>         <dbl>  <dbl>     <dbl>   <dbl> <dbl>  <dbl>  <dbl>  <dbl>
#> 1     0.822         0.816 0.0757      140.       0    70  2592. -5040. -4630.
#> # … with 3 more variables: deviance <dbl>, df.residual <int>, nobs <int>

The model coefficients can be extracted using the tidy() method:

#> # A tibble: 71 x 5
#>   term                       estimate std.error statistic   p.value
#>   <chr>                         <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl>
#> 1 (Intercept)                -0.531    0.296        -1.79 7.32e-  2
#> 2 Gr_Liv_Area                 0.648    0.0161       40.3  1.46e-264
#> 3 Year_Built                  0.00194  0.000139     13.9  2.69e- 42
#> 4 Neighborhood_College_Creek -0.0898   0.0332       -2.71 6.83e-  3
#> 5 Neighborhood_Old_Town      -0.0516   0.0129       -4.01 6.20e-  5
#> 6 Neighborhood_Edwards       -0.153    0.0274       -5.57 2.91e-  8
#> # … with 65 more rows

To make predictions on the test set, we use the standard syntax:

predict(lm_fit, ames_test_prepped %>% head())
#>     1     2     3     4     5     6 
#> 5.308 5.301 5.168 5.519 5.088 5.489

6.9 Tidy a recipe

In Section 3.3, we introduced the tidy() verb for statistical objects and in Section 6.8, we showed how to tidy() a model. There is also a tidy() method for recipes. Calling it with no other arguments gives a summary of the recipe steps:

#> # A tibble: 5 x 6
#>   number operation type     trained skip  id            
#>    <int> <chr>     <chr>    <lgl>   <lgl> <chr>         
#> 1      1 step      log      TRUE    FALSE log_Zpjfz     
#> 2      2 step      other    TRUE    FALSE other_qHT9d   
#> 3      3 step      dummy    TRUE    FALSE dummy_3SK4C   
#> 4      4 step      interact TRUE    FALSE interact_gyWyl
#> 5      5 step      ns       TRUE    FALSE ns_qG7ic

We can specify the id field in a step function call but otherwise it is generated using a random suffix. This field can be helpful if the same type of step is added to the recipe more than once. Let’s specify the id ahead of time for step_log(), since we want to tidy() it:

ames_rec <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type + 
           Latitude + Longitude, data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10, id = "my_id") %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 
  step_dummy(all_nominal()) %>% 
  step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:starts_with("Bldg_Type_") ) %>% 
  step_ns(Latitude, Longitude, deg_free = 20)

ames_rec_prepped <- prep(ames_rec)

The tidy() method can be called again along with the id identifier we specified to get these results:

tidy(ames_rec_prepped, id = "my_id")
#> # A tibble: 1 x 3
#>   terms        base id   
#>   <chr>       <dbl> <chr>
#> 1 Gr_Liv_Area    10 my_id

The tidy() method can be called with the number identifier as well, if we know which step in the recipe we need:

tidy(ames_rec_prepped, number = 2)
#> # A tibble: 20 x 3
#>   terms        retained           id         
#>   <chr>        <chr>              <chr>      
#> 1 Neighborhood North_Ames         other_6Nta6
#> 2 Neighborhood College_Creek      other_6Nta6
#> 3 Neighborhood Old_Town           other_6Nta6
#> 4 Neighborhood Edwards            other_6Nta6
#> 5 Neighborhood Somerset           other_6Nta6
#> 6 Neighborhood Northridge_Heights other_6Nta6
#> # … with 14 more rows

Each tidy() method returns the relevant information about that step. For example, the tidy() method for step_dummy() returns a column with the variables that were converted to dummy variables and another column with all of the known levels for each column.

6.10 Column roles

When a formula is used with the initial call to recipe() it assigns roles to each of the columns depending on which side of the tilde that they are on. Those roles are either "predictor" or "outcome". However, other roles can be assigned as needed.

For example, in our Ames data set, the original raw data contained a field for address9. It may be useful to keep that column in the data so that, after predictions are made, problematic results can be investigated in detail. In other words, the column is important but isn’t a predictor or outcome.

To solve this, the add_role(), remove_role(), and update_role() functions can be helpful. For example, for the house price data, the street address column could be modified using

ames_rec %>% update_role(address, new_role = "street address")

Any character string can be used as a role. Also, columns can have multiple roles so that they can be selected under more than one context.

This can be helpful when the data are resampled. It helps to keep the columns that are not involved with the model fit in the same data frame (rather than in an external vector). Resampling, described in Chapter 10, creates alternate versions of the data mostly by row subsampling. If the street address were in another column, additional subsampling would be required and might lead to more complex code and a higher likelihood of errors.

Finally, all step functions have a role field that can assign roles to the results of the step. In many cases, columns affected by a step retain their existing role. For example, the step_log() calls to the ames_rec object above affected the Gr_Liv_Area column. For that step, the default behavior is to keep the existing role for this column since no new column is created. As a counter-example, the step to produce splines defaults new columns to have a role of "predictor" since that is usually how spline columns are used in a model. Most steps have sensible defaults but, since the defaults can be different, be sure to check the documentation page to understand which role(s) will be assigned.

6.11 Chapter summary

In this chapter, you learned about using recipes for flexible feature engineering and data preprocessing, from creating dummy variables to handling class imbalance and more. Feature engineering is an important part of the modeling process where information leakage can easily occur and good practices must be adopted. Between the recipes package and other packages that extend recipes, there are over 100 available steps. All possible recipe steps are enumerated at tidymodels.org/find. The recipes framework provides a rich data manipulation environment for preprocessing and transforming data prior to modeling. Additionally, tidymodels.org/learn/develop/recipes/ shows how custom steps can be created.

The code that we will use in later chapters is:

ames <- mutate(ames, Sale_Price = log10(Sale_Price))

ames_split <- initial_split(ames, prob = 0.80, strata = Sale_Price)
ames_train <- training(ames_split)
ames_test  <-  testing(ames_split)

ames_rec <- 
  recipe(Sale_Price ~ Neighborhood + Gr_Liv_Area + Year_Built + Bldg_Type + 
           Latitude + Longitude, data = ames_train) %>%
  step_log(Gr_Liv_Area, base = 10) %>% 
  step_other(Neighborhood, threshold = 0.01) %>% 
  step_dummy(all_nominal()) %>% 
  step_interact( ~ Gr_Liv_Area:starts_with("Bldg_Type_") ) %>% 
  step_ns(Latitude, Longitude, deg_free = 20)


Kuhn, M, and K Johnson. 2020. Feature Engineering and Selection: A Practical Approach for Predictive Models. CRC Press.

  1. Our version of these data does not contain that column.↩︎