[Rd] package introductions

Paul Gilbert pgilbert at bank-banque-canada.ca
Wed Feb 1 17:54:20 CET 2006

I have been experimenting with different possibilities for an 
"introduction" page for my packages. That is, a good place to tell users 
about the most important things in a package, and where to start.

Recently there was a discussion about this, and a suggestion to use 
<foo>-package.Rd, and also a function that generates a skeleton 
document. My problem with this suggestion is that <foo>-package may not 
be high in the sort order, so users will not find this unless they know 
to look for it (and so there is difficulty establishing the convention). 
A second problem is that the skeleton document has information that may 
be useful, but is not really what I am looking for. (It has all the 
methods in the package, but what I want is to tell users the most 
important ones to look at first. It also has "high maintenance" 
information, like version numbers. I want something that is either 
completely automatic, or manual but low maintenance.) Another related 
problem is that the information put in the skeleton  <foo>-package.Rd 
possibly should be in a man page somewhere, so if this does happen, that 
naming convention will likely be used and would then conflict with my 

I now think I have found something that works fairly well. I put the 
introduction in a file 00.foo.Intro.Rd and in that file have


Then sorting puts the 00 version at the beginning of the table of 
contents in both the pdf version with all the help pages, and in the 
html version for the help.start() system. Also, ?foo.Intro works. 
(?"00.foo.Intro" works too, but the quote marks are necessary and this 
seems likely to cause problems for beginners.)

It is also helpful to put something like "See ?foo.Intro for more 
details" in the "Description:" line of the DESCRIPTION file, so users 
see this with help(package="foo"). (I don't think users of the 
help.start() system ever see this, but perhaps someone can correct me.)

I also would like to put in my vote for a DESCRIPTION file tag
   GettingStarted: foo.Intro
probably as an optional tag to begin.

Of course, the biggest simplification happens when things like this are 
done in a similar way by everyone. ( "configure ; make" is not 
intuitively simple, but everyone now knows the incantation.)

Paul Gilbert
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