5 Best Ways to Preprocess Data in Python Using Scikit-learn

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Data preprocessing is an essential step in any machine learning pipeline. It involves transforming raw data into a format that algorithms can understand more effectively. For instance, we may want to scale features, handle missing values, or encode categorical variables. Below, we’ll explore how the scikit-learn library in Python simplifies these tasks, starting with numerical data and moving towards more complex data types, aiming for a streamlined dataset ready for model training.

Method 1: Standardization with StandardScaler

StandardScaler is a preprocessing method in scikit-learn used to scale features to a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1. This technique ensures that each feature contributes equally to the distance computations in algorithms like SVMs and k-means clustering.

Here’s an example:

from sklearn.preprocessing import StandardScaler
import numpy as np

# Sample data with different scales
data = np.array([[1.0, 2.0, 10.0],
                 [2.0, 0.0, 0.0],
                 [0.0, 1.0, -1.0]])

scaler = StandardScaler()
scaled_data = scaler.fit_transform(data)



[[-0.26726124,  1.22474487,  1.33630621]
 [ 1.33630621, -1.22474487, -0.26726124]
 [-1.06904497,  0.        , -1.06904497]]

The data is scaled such that each feature now has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1. This transformation is vital for models sensitive to the scale of data.

Method 2: Missing Values Imputation with SimpleImputer

SimpleImputer is a flexible tool in scikit-learn that replaces missing values, which are often represented as NaNs, with a specified placeholder – for instance, the mean of the remaining values in the feature.

Here’s an example:

from sklearn.impute import SimpleImputer
import numpy as np

# Sample data with missing values (NaN)
data = np.array([[7, np.nan, 6],
                 [4, 3, np.nan],
                 [np.nan, 1, 9]])

imputer = SimpleImputer(strategy='mean')
imputed_data = imputer.fit_transform(data)



[[7. , 2. , 6. ]
 [4. , 3. , 7.5]
 [5.5, 1. , 9. ]]

In this snippet, SimpleImputer calculates the mean of the available data in each column and replaces the missing values. This method enables algorithms to process datasets that would otherwise be problematic due to incomplete data.

Method 3: Normalization with MinMaxScaler

MinMaxScaler is used to scale features to a given range, typically between 0 and 1. This can be crucial for algorithms that weigh inputs like neural networks and also helps with the interpretability of the data.

Here’s an example:

from sklearn.preprocessing import MinMaxScaler
import numpy as np

data = np.array([[1, 2, 3],
                 [4, 5, 6],
                 [7, 8, 9]])

scaler = MinMaxScaler(feature_range=(0, 1))
normalized_data = scaler.fit_transform(data)



[[0.  , 0.  , 0.  ]
 [0.5 , 0.5 , 0.5 ]
 [1.  , 1.  , 1.  ]]

After applying MinMaxScaler, all features are scaled to the [0, 1] interval. This uniform scaling allows for comparison across features and assists with algorithms that are sensitive to the magnitude of the data.

Method 4: Encoding Categorical Variables with OneHotEncoder

OneHotEncoder converts categorical variables into a format that can be provided to ML algorithms. It does this by creating binary columns for each category.

Here’s an example:

from sklearn.preprocessing import OneHotEncoder

data = [['male'], ['female'], ['female']]

encoder = OneHotEncoder(sparse=False)
encoded_data = encoder.fit_transform(data)



[[1., 0.]
 [0., 1.]
 [0., 1.]]

This transformation creates a binary column for each category of the feature, allowing models to use the feature for training without assuming an artificial order.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Quick Feature Scaling with scale()

For quick and straightforward feature scaling, scikit-learn offers the scale function. It standardizes a dataset along any axis and centers to mean with unit variance.

Here’s an example:

from sklearn.preprocessing import scale
import numpy as np

data = np.array([[1, 2, 3],
                 [4, 5, 6],
                 [7, 8, 9]])

scaled_data = scale(data)



[[-1.22474487 -1.22474487 -1.22474487]
 [ 0.          0.          0.        ]
 [ 1.22474487  1.22474487  1.22474487]]

This function is a quick method for standardizing data without explicitly creating a scaler object, suitable for simple preprocessing tasks.


  • Method 1: StandardScaler. Provides feature scaling by subtracting the mean and dividing by the standard deviation. Strengths: effective in normalizing data distribution. Weaknesses: can be sensitive to outliers.
  • Method 2: SimpleImputer. Handles missing data by imputing with mean, median, most frequent, or constant value. Strengths: flexible strategy selection. Weaknesses: may introduce bias if not used carefully.
  • Method 3: MinMaxScaler. Scales features to a specific range. Strengths: maintains relationships in data. Weaknesses: influenced by minimum and maximum values; sensitive to outliers.
  • Method 4: OneHotEncoder. Encodes categorical variables into a binary vector. Strengths: removes relational ordering between categories. Weaknesses: can lead to a higher-dimensional dataset (curse of dimensionality).
  • Bonus Method 5: scale(). Quick standardization of a dataset. Strengths: convenient for quick preprocessing. Weaknesses: less flexibility compared to StandardScaler.