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What is Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA), and How to Apply It

by | Apr 15, 2024


In the ever-expanding landscape of data-driven decision-making, exploratory data analysis (EDA) has gained traction as a pivotal precursor to extracting meaningful insights.  

Today, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the significance of exploratory data analysis, its role in unraveling hidden patterns and trends, and how it is applied across diverse industries. 

What is Exploratory Data Analysis? 

As the name suggests, exploratory data analysis is the process of probing and visualising data to uncover meaningful insights, identify patterns, detect anomalies, and formulate hypotheses. In simple terms, exploratory data analysis is akin to taking a first look at your data from a bird’s eye view to get a surface understanding of it before diving into deeper analysis. 

During the process of exploratory data analysis, analysts use a myriad of techniques, from basic summary statistics to complex data visualisation methods. Exploratory data analysis undertakes an important role in the data analysis pipeline, as it lays the foundation for subsequent statistical modeling and hypothesis testing.

The Importance of Exploratory Data Analysis 

Exploratory Data Analysis plays a crucial role in the few stages of the data analysis process.

1. Data Cleaning and Preprocessing 

First things first, when you set out to put together a michelin-star, delicious meal, what kind of ingredients do you have to use? Fresh, quality ingredients of course! Similarly, before we start on any data analysis, it is paramount to ensure good data quality. 

Exploratory data analysis helps us identify missing values, outliers, and inconsistencies within the dataset. By cleaning and preprocessing the data, analysts can lessen errors and increase the reliability and accuracy of subsequent analyses. When talking about data cleaning, we cannot do without exploratory data analysis techniques like identifying and handling missing data, outlier detection, and data transformation. Missing data can significantly affect the integrity of analysis results. Through exploratory data analysis, analysts can get a rough idea of how much data is missing and its likely impact before deciding on an appropriate strategy to deal with it (e.g., imputation, deletion, etc.)

In addition, outlier detection techniques, such as box plots, z-scores, or clustering algorithms, aid in the identification of data points that deviate significantly from the rest of the dataset. By understanding the nature of outliers, analysts can proceed to make well-informed decisions on whether to remove these data points, or to conduct further investigation. 

Moreover, exploratory data analysis aids in data transformation processes like normalisation or standardisation, which are essential for ensuring adherence to certain assumptions required by statistical models.

2. Pattern Identification

Next on the list, pattern identification. Exploratory data analysis techniques like histograms, scatter plots, and box plots enable analysts to identify patterns and distributions within the data. To come up with hypotheses and appropriate analytical strategies, analysts must first understand the underlying structure of the data. 

Through exploratory data analysis, analysts can gain insights into the central tendency, dispersion, and shape of data distributions. Tools like histograms and density plots provide visual representations of the data distribution, allowing analysts to identify skewness, multimodality, or other characteristics that may influence subsequent analysis. 

Scatter plots are also a popular choice to explore relationships between variables, especially in multidimensional datasets. By examining the scatter plot matrix visually, analysts can identify linear and nonlinear relationships, clusters, or trends among different variables.

Different patterns demonstrated via scatterplot 


Image source: From Data to Viz

On the other hand, box plots provide a graphical summary of the distribution of a continuous variable. In addition to measures of central tendency and variability, box plots also allow analysts to identify outliers. 

3. Relationship Exploration 

 Next, it’s only natural to explore and consider the relationship between variables when analysing data – this too, is something that exploratory data analysis facilitates. Correlation analysis, heat maps, and pair plots allow analysts to determine the connections among different variables. This ability is especially valued as it fosters understanding towards the dynamics of complex systems and guides analysts to make informed decisions. 

 In correlation analysis, analysts examine the strength and direction of association between two continuous variables. Meanwhile, heat maps provide a visual representation of correlation matrices, enabling analysts to identify clusters of highly correlated variables or patterns of association within the data.

Pair plots, also known as scatter plot matrices, offer a comprehensive view of pairwise relationships among multiple variables. By looking at the scatter plots along the diagonal and the correlation coefficients in the upper or lower triangles, analysts can then identify potential patterns or trends in the data.

4. Feature Selection and Dimensionality Reduction 

In domains characterised by high-dimensional data (e.g., machine learning, genomics), analysts apply exploratory data analysis to select relevant features and to reduce dimensionality. Then, to extract meaningful insights from these datasets,  analysts often employ techniques like principal component analysis (PCA) and t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE).  

Techniques like PCA and t-SNE, also known as dimensionality reduction techniques, convert high-dimensional data into lower-dimensional representations, all whilst preserving as much variance or structure as possible. Thanks to this process, analysts are able to unravel hidden patterns or clusters within the data by visualising the reduced-dimensional embeddings.

Feature selection is a critical step in machine learning workflows as it aids in identifying features that contribute most to predictive performance while reducing computational complexity and overfitting risks.

Exploratory data analysis enables analysts to identify informative features through evaluating feature importance scores, correlation matrices, or even model-based selection methods.

5. Insight Generation 

Last but definitely not least, the ability to generate actionable insights from exploratory data analysis makes it an indispensable tool. Through the visualisation of data in the forms of charts, graphs, and dashboards, analysts are able to communicate their findings in a comprehensible and accessible manner. These insights empower stakeholders (who are often not experts in data) to make informed decisions and drive business growth.

Furthermore, data visualisation is a powerful tool for storytelling and conveying insights effectively. With exploratory data analysis, analysts can create interactive visualisations, dashboards, or infographics that showcase key findings, patterns, or anomalies within the data (e.g., creating visualisations with tools like Tableau). By leveraging storytelling techniques such as narrative structure, visual hierarchy, and interactivity, analysts can better engage decision-makers and facilitate data-driven decision-making processes.

Applications of Exploratory Data Analysis

With all that said, how is exploratory data analysis useful in the real-world setting? Afterall, it’s only valuable if we know how to implement it in our daily lives, right? 

Finance: In the financial sector, exploratory data analysis is used to assess risk, optimise portfolio, and to detect potential fraud. By examining past market data, financial analysts can spot trends, volatility patterns, and correlations among different asset classes. 

Healthcare: In healthcare, exploratory data analysis is instrumental for clinical research, disease surveillance, and patient outcome prediction. By analysing electronic health records (EHRs) and medical imaging data, healthcare professionals can gain insights into how they can best personalise treatment plans and improve patient care.

Marketing: Exploratory data analysis undertakes a critical role in marketing analytics, customer segmentation, and campaign optimisation. By analysing consumer demographics, purchasing behavior, and market trends, marketers can customise promotional strategies (like instagram ads) to target specific customers. In turn, this maximises businesses’ return on investment (ROI).

Manufacturing: In the manufacturing sector, exploratory data analysis enhances operational process, quality control, and predictive maintenance. By analysing sensor data from production equipment, manufacturers can identify areas of inefficiencies, detect anomalies, and minimise downtime. Naturally, this then optimises operational efficiency while reducing production costs – sounds like a win-win to me! 

Retail: Last, in the retail industry, exploratory data analysis helps in demand forecasting, inventory management, and customer analytics. By examining sales data and customer feedback, retailers can optimise product assortments, pricing strategies, and promotional campaigns to meet consumer demand and drive sales growth.


As data continues to infiltrate our lives, exploratory data analysis has emerged to serve as a cornerstone of data-driven decision-making. It allows analysts to uncover hidden patterns, and derive actionable recommendations from meaningless, boring numbers. With exploratory data analysis and visualisation tools, even numbers can tell a story.  

Convinced by the prowess of exploratory data analysis? Join us in the world of data by enrolling in Heicoder Academy’s DA100: Data Analytics with SQL and Tableau, where you’ll gain a strong foundation in  data analytics, database management, and data visualisation. See you there! 

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