When working with categorical data in R, it’s common to convert factors or categorical variables into a more manageable format. One of the most useful functions for this purpose is fct_infreq()
from the forcats
package. This function allows you to reorder factor levels in descending order based on their frequency, making it easier to analyze and visualize categorical data. But what about when we want to apply it to integer vectors?
What is fct_infreq
?
fct_infreq
is a function that reorders factor levels based on their frequency in the data. This is particularly useful when you have a large set of categories, and you want to focus on the most frequently occurring ones. By converting integer vectors to factors and applying fct_infreq()
, you can quickly organize your data in a meaningful way.
Common Use Case
Imagine you have a dataset containing survey responses, and you want to analyze how often different age groups respond to a question. You might start with an integer vector representing different age groups. By using fct_infreq()
, you can convert this integer vector into a factor that displays the age groups in order of frequency.
Basic Example
Let’s explore how to use fct_infreq
on integer vectors in R.
Step 1: Install and Load Necessary Libraries
Before you can use fct_infreq
, make sure you have the forcats
package installed. You can install it using the following command:
install.packages("forcats")
Then, load the package:
library(forcats)
Step 2: Create an Integer Vector
For demonstration, let’s create a simple integer vector that represents age groups:
age_groups < c(18, 25, 18, 30, 25, 25, 30, 18, 40)
Step 3: Convert to Factor and Apply fct_infreq
Now, convert this integer vector to a factor and apply fct_infreq
:
age_groups_factor < as.factor(age_groups)
ordered_age_groups < fct_infreq(age_groups_factor)
Step 4: Check the Results
You can see the levels of the factor now ordered by frequency:
levels(ordered_age_groups)
This will return the levels of the factor in order of their occurrence, with the most frequent first.
Analysis of Results
By applying fct_infreq
, you were able to create an ordered factor that lets you visualize or analyze your integer vector effectively. This is especially useful for plotting, as many plotting functions in R will use the order of factor levels to display data.
For example, if you were to plot the frequency of each age group using the ggplot2
library, your results will be clearer because the age groups will be presented in descending order of their counts:
library(ggplot2)
ggplot(data.frame(age = ordered_age_groups), aes(x = age)) +
geom_bar() +
labs(title = "Frequency of Age Groups", x = "Age Group", y = "Count")
Additional Insights

Data Cleaning: Before using
fct_infreq
, it’s a good practice to clean your integer vector. Remove any outliers or irrelevant data points that might skew your analysis. 
Combining Factors: If your integer vector represents categories that can be grouped (e.g., 1825 as one group), consider creating new levels for better categorization.

Exploratory Data Analysis: Utilize the reordered factor for exploratory data analysis (EDA). Visualizations such as bar charts or pie charts can provide insights into the distribution of categories.

Performance: When dealing with large datasets,
fct_infreq
is efficient but may require memory considerations. Always monitor your R session's performance, especially with larger factors.
Conclusion
The fct_infreq
function is a powerful tool for reordering factors based on their frequency, making it simpler to analyze integer vectors in R. By converting integers to factors and using this function, you gain valuable insights that are not only helpful for visualizations but also for understanding your data.
Further Reading
By implementing the methods discussed above, you can leverage R’s capabilities to manage categorical data efficiently, paving the way for more informed analyses and visual storytelling.