R Statistics Blog

Data Science From R Programmers Point Of View

Standardization And Scaling

While building a Machine Learning model do not throw away all of your information! Normalize your features.

Things You Will Master

  1. Overview - Why normalize your features
  2. Methods for normalizing your features
  3. Pros and Cons of these methods
  4. R programming code


It is a general requirement for many machine learning algorithms to have features with similar scales. It is important because if we pass features with different scales to algorithms like SVMs, perceptron’s, neural networks, optimization algorithms in logistic regressions, and more prominently you can think of algorithms which use gradient descent will end up having faster update for some feature values as compared to others. This is because the feature values play an important role in weight updates.

Gradient Descent Formula

Below is the list of algorithms which get highly impacted by the differing scale of features:

  1. K-Nearest Neighbors and K-Means algorithm which use Euclidean distance as measure

  2. If you are using gradient descent-based optimization in algorithms like logistics regression, neural network, SVM, perceptron etc. we should bring the features on the same scale else some weights will get updated faster when compared to others.

  3. In case of principal component analysis, kernel principal component analysis and linear discriminant analysis as these algorithms intent to find the direction of maximum variance; you must pass features with similar scales otherwise the algorithm will put much more emphasis on features with higher measurement as compared to ones with smaller scales.

When we wish to bring the features on the same scale, we can broadly do the following:

  1. Standardization also sometimes called as Z-score normalization - When you apply this technique, the features are scaled in such a way that they end up having properties of a standard normal distribution with mean equal to zero and standard deviation of one. We simply calculate the Z-score of each observation in the dataset for the feature.

A Z-Score is calculated using the following formula:

Z-Score Standardization Formula

  1. Min-Max scaling also sometimes refers to normalization - Often people confuse the Min-Max scaling with the Z-Score Normalization. In this approach the data is scaled in such a way that the values usually range between 0 – 1. In contrast to the standardization the min-max scaling results into smaller standard deviations. What this essentially means is that we will be suppressing the effects of outliers.

A min max scaling is typically done using the following formula:

Min-Max Scoring Formula

Which is better Z-score standardization or Min-Max scaling?

Both Standardization and Min-Max scaling has there pros and cons. I am listing these below and hopefully, this will help you take a call on when to use what.

Min-max Scaling - All features end up having same scale but it does not handle outliers well.

Z-score Standardization - Handles outliers, but the data produced does not have the exact same scale.

How it can be done using R programming

The below code we are creating a UDF for min-max scaling. We have created a sored list of numeric values which is randomly generated from the exponential distribution. We then apply our UDF which is named as MinMaxScaling. You will notice that the first value is zero and the last value is one as we squeeze the values between 1 and 0.

# generating random numbers
num = sort(rexp(10))

# Min-Max Scaling function
MinMaxScaling <- function(x){

# Calling the function
# Output
 [1] 0.00000000 0.07356108 0.08615292 0.12786590
 [5] 0.22440422 0.31220196 0.41876790 0.52747519
 [9] 0.55234810 1.00000000

For the Z-score standardization you can use the scale() from the base R package. The function is very easy to use. And lets just apply the same on the above numerical values. For your reference we are sharing the minimum, maximum, mean and standar deviation for the scaled values.

# Usinf scale function
scaledValues <- scale(num)
# Output
> scaledValues
 [1,] -1.09310641
 [2,] -0.85110980
 [3,] -0.80968594
 [4,] -0.67246119
 [5,] -0.35487550
 [6,] -0.06604399
 [7,]  0.28452994
 [8,]  0.64214835
 [9,]  0.72397370
[10,]  2.19663083
[1] 0.6872931
[1] 0.5836444

> min(scaledValues)
[1] -1.093106

> max(scaledValues)
[1] 2.196631

> round(mean(scaledValues),0)
[1] 0

> round(sd(scaledValues),0)
[1] 1

Closing Note

In this chapter, you learned about different techniques of normalizing your data. When using machine learning algorithms it is imperative that you bring your variables on same scale. You might have an amazing dataset with many significant features, but if you do not normalize your features, one of those features might completely dominate the others.
Last updated on 17 Oct 2017 / Published on 17 Oct 2017