2.3 Setting Expectations

Developing expectations is the process of deliberately thinking about what you expect before you do anything, such as inspect your data, perform a procedure, or enter a command. For experienced data analysts, in some circumstances, developing expectations may be an automatic, almost subconscious process, but it’s an important activity to cultivate and be deliberate about.

For example, you may be going out to dinner with friends at a cash-only establishment and need to stop by the ATM to withdraw money before meeting up. To make a decision about the amount of money you’re going to withdraw, you have to have developed some expectation of the cost of dinner. This may be an automatic expectation because you dine at this establishment regularly so you know what the typical cost of a meal is there, which would be an example of a priori knowledge. Another example of a priori knowledge would be knowing what a typical meal costs at a restaurant in your city, or knowing what a meal at the most expensive restaurants in your city costs. Using that information, you could perhaps place an upper and lower bound on how much the meal will cost.

You may have also sought out external information to develop your expectations, which could include asking your friends who will be joining you or who have eaten at the restaurant before and/or Googling the restaurant to find general cost information online or a menu with prices. This same process, in which you use any a priori information you have and/or external sources to determine what you expect when you inspect your data or execute an analysis procedure, applies to each core activity of the data analysis process.