NumPy project

This page contains the details of a technical writing project accepted for Google Season of Docs.

Project summary

Open source organization:
Technical writer:
Project name:
NumPy Documentation for Community Education
Project length:
Standard length (3 months)

Project description


NumPy delivers clean and fast array-based computing in a free open source software library. It is a fundamental package in the SciPy stack for scientific computing [1]. Over 370 thousand projects use for efficient array computing [2]. NumPy users are greeted by a new website with applications and case studies [1]. When a new user finds the documentation page, they are met with multiple “Start Here” links and introductory tutorials that can be overwhelming for a beginner, such as NumPy Basics/byte-swapping. I began using NumPy ten years ago in graduate school. I found myself piecing together blog posts, lecture notes, and StackExchange answers to avoid going through the NumPy documentation. There are currently over 360 thousand StackExchange conversations that deal with NumPy. I imagine other users have had similar routes to success in NumPy. The building blocks of educational tools are communication and community [4]. The documentation needs to establish a community that reflects the desired goals of the project. The documentation should be consistent, clear guide for a new user. The tutorials should give new users easy-to-follow steps and build comfort with the library [3]. The documentation should welcome a new user into the NumPy community. The structure, the pace, and the authors of the documentation all need to create a place that welcomes exploration and communication. This proposal will organize and fill in gaps in the current NumPy documentation so that new users are educated and welcomed into the community.

The knowledge that users communicate is gained by testing and experimenting [4,5]. Knowledge depends upon the method of testing and evaluating. Content that provides clear goals and applications in how-to’s allows users to test and evaluate new ideas and methods. The community can build a knowledge base enhance skills, facts, and applications. The how-to space provides a two-fold benefit. First, new and experienced users have a set of clear goals to test and build experiments. Second, potential documentation contributors have a space to communicate their goals, methods, and solutions. The how-to space fills an immediate need to make NumPy’s documentation more accessible for new users and possible contributors. Current Knowledge

John Dewey said that the foundation of learning is a genuine experience [4]. The NumPy community has a tremendous amount of genuine experience that can be shared with other users. Education is built upon community and communication. An organized documentation page clears the way for new users to experience NumPy. It also creates a structured template for potential contributors to communicate expereriences in NumPy.

There are four broadly-grouped spaces for software documentation [3]: tutorial space, how-to space, explanation space, and reference space. The NumPy documentation has a number of documents in the tutorial space that mix explanation and how-to space content into the tutorial. Tutorial space should focus on user education and use easy-to-repeat steps to communicate ideas. The how-to space provides more goal-oriented procedures that users can apply in real-world applications. The explanation space provides detailed information detailed doc-strings in each function. The current tutorial and how-to spaces are not clearly delineated and sometimes enter into the explanation and reference space. There is an excellent tutorial for the “Absolute Beginner” and there is a great reference for Matlab users to build NumPy code in the “Numpy for Matlab users”. Clearly delineating these four spaces make the documentation more clear.

Gap in the Knowledge Base/Unmet Need

The current documentation covers many necessary topics, but lacks clear distinction between tutorial, how-to, explanation, and reference spaces. This results in confusion for potential contributors. New users can be overwhelmed by explanation and reference material in the tutorial section and potential contributors are faced with hurdles to contribute. I propose a more accessible layout for newcomers and possible documentation contributors with a logical flow in documentation and managing pull requests for user-contributed how-to documents by new contributors. My long term goal is to build the documentation community so that learning from the documentation is a give-and-take educate-and-communicate experience. This model for documentation will ground education in actual experience for new comers and potential contributors.


This Google Summer of Docs proposal is important for my pedagogical and career goals. I use NumPy and SciPy in all of my courses. The current documentation is difficult for my students to navigate. I want to use my experience teaching non-CS majors how to code to help organize, edit, and fill in gaps in the current tutorials. Then, I can use the documentation as a textbook and reference material for my courses. I have created dozens of tutorials, exercises, and examples using Python and . I want to convert some of this material into tutorials and how-tos. I have had over 800 students use NumPy (as part of the Scipy stack) and I have multiple students that are interested in becoming documentation contributors for the Fall semester. I have been teaching at University of Connecticut Mechanical Engineering for 4 years and taught over 30 credit-hours of courses.

Specific Aims

I have three specific aims for this Google Summer of Docs proposal: 1. Organize the current documentation, 2. Edit the current tutorials (Beginner’s Guide, Array Creation, Indexing, Linear Algebra, and NumPy for Matlab) to move reference information into the Explanation Space, and 3. Build how-to materials with students. Each specific aim has an expected outcome for the proposal.

These three specific aims are meant to make the documentation more welcoming for new users and provide structure for potential contributors. The aims also help to further the long term goal of continuing to grow the NumPy documentation community. Expected Outcomes

I have three expected outcomes as such: 1. A revised documentation webpage that clearly separates the four spaces: tutorials, how-to, explanation, and reference, 2. new tutorials for: reading and writing arrays, array creation (np.zeros, np.ones, np.block, etc.), and element-wise vs. linear algebra operation in NumPy, and 3. a curated how-to space.

These expected outcomes will help new users progress through documents, provide potential documentation contributors with clear styles and formats, make current tutorials shorter and easier to follow, move explanations to a separate section, and new documentation contributors will be able to contribute small use cases to the how-to section without building entire Sphinx documentation. We want to continue to build our teaching-and-learning community.

New documentation contributors can contribute small use cases to millions of users without building the entire Sphinx documentation. We want to continue to build our teaching-and-learning community. This proposed documentation will mimic current open source documentation such as Matplotlib, Divio, etc. New users and potential contributors will have an easier time learning to apply NumPy in their fields and software.

The timeline for the project is 9/14-11/30. The first step is to build the documentation and separate content in the current tutorials into Tutorial, How-to, and Explanation content. This will be done in the first five weeks of the project as part of Outcomes 1 and 2-revising the website and tutorials, respectively. The proposed Documentation organization is shown in the Proposed Documentation below.

Proposed Documentation:


  • Absolute basics for beginners (remove installation, can pandas import/export be replaced with numpy.loadtxt?)
  • link to “What is numpy”
  • link to basic installation instructions here
  • Quickstart Tutorial (meant for follow-up to Python tutorial )
  • Working with NumPy arrays
  • array creation (np.zeros, np.ones, np.block, etc.) (write: med-low priority)
  • element-wise operations (+,-,*,/) and linear algebra operations (+,-,@, linalg.solve) (write:med priority)
  • Read and write data using Numpy (write: high priority)
  • Indexing

ii. How-to’s:

  • Linear Algebra on n-dimensional arrays (would love to edit the headings and descriptions and maybe change title to “Image processing with Numpy’s linear algebra”)
  • link to numpy-tutorials how-to content (on-going work)

iii. Explanation:

  • Data types
  • I/O with Numpy
  • Indexing
  • Broadcasting
  • Byte-swapping
  • Structured arrays
  • Writing custom array containers
  • subclassing ndarray
  • Miscellaneous

iv. Reference Space:

  • Glossary
  • Numpy API Reference
  • Numpy for Matlab users (equivalence table is a great reference table, but array/matrix discussion is distracting and seems deprecated)

Upon completing this Google Season of Docs I propose the following outcomes:

  • A revised Documentation Webpage that clearly separates the four spaces: Tutorials, How-to, Explanation, and Reference
  • New Tutorials for: array creation (np.zeros, np.ones, np.block, etc.), element-wise operations (+,-,*,/) and linear algebra operations (+,-,@, linalg.solve), and Read and write data using Numpy (high priority)
  • Advised how-to documents to increase user contributions and help further the goals of the community in teaching and learning

Each outcome has a number of steps outlined below in the tables for Outcomes 1-3. While the Proposed Documentation is submitted for review, the high priority “Read/write arrays” tutorial will be written for submission as a pull request as part of Outcome 2. During the review of the revised website and updated “Read/Write arrays” tutorial, I will begin writing a tutorial for creating arrays using NumPy functions e.g. np.ones, np.zeros, np.diag. The remaining time will be used to respond to pull request issues and start to write the rank 3 tutorial: Element-wise and linear algebra operations in Python.

The third outcome is to advise students at University of Connecticut to build documentation in the numpy-tutorials repository. The submitted tutorials or how-to documents will be Jupyter notebooks that use NumPy to solve engineering problems. I will use some of my course notes/examples to submit an example notebook. I will advise students to follow the layout and structure as we build a template and framing scheme. This outcome presents a genuine experience for students to communicate concepts and solutions to a broader audience. It is a great opportunity for students to get involved with the NumPy community and learn.

Outcome 1: Revise website Deliverable Date Fork Repository and Build Docs with Sphinx 9/21 Build Webpage with Four Spaces defined and linked 10/1 Move current tutorials into appropriate spaces and Build docs 10/10 Submit PR to github with proposed changes 11/1 Respond to comments/suggestions and revise PR ongoing with Outcome 2 Website revised 11/30

Outcome 2: Revise tutorials Deliverable Date Review tutorials revision ranking 9/21 Separate current tutorial content into Tutorial and Explanation spaces 10/1 Write rank 1: Read/Write arrays 10/10 Submit PR to github for separation and revision 10/20 Write the rank 2: Array Creation PR 11/15 Write the rank 3: Element-wise and linear algebra operations PR 11/30

Proposed ranking of tutorial revisions (subject to change according to mentors/community):

  1. Read/Write arrays currently empty page

  2. Array creation (np.zeros, np.ones, np.block, etc.) Does not exist: would help new users to have the common array creation/interaction tools explained and demonstrated

  3. Element-wise and linear algebra operations (+,-,*,/ and +,-@,linalg.solve) Does not exist: this is especially helpful for 1. Matlab users and 2. People adopting for linear algebra (machine learning, linear regression, etc.)

Outcome 3: Curated How-to space Deliverable Date External Link(issue/example) Build How-to example (candidate: How to find natural frequencies of guitar strings 10/20
Build How-to template for new contributors 10/1 in progress Tutorial template PR & Framing possible contributions Work with other contributors to build How-to notebooks recruiting UConn students and other community members 7/1 status: work-study approved and applications arriving

Expected Significance

This Google Summer of Docs proposal will make the NumPy documentation , fill in missing tutorials from the website, and gain documentation contributors. As a Professor in Mechanical Engineering, I plan to segment the documentation in a way that my students will be able to navigate the documents and easily find introductory tutorials vs hands-on how-to guides. The segmented documentation: tutorial, how-to, reference, and explanation will give potential contributors structured examples to build new resources. The proposed documentation lends itself to a give-and-take through educate-and-communicate experience for new and experienced users. The proposed how-to document advising with University of Connecticut students will put this educate-and-communicate idea to practice. We want all users to find room to experiment, learn, and join the NumPy community.


  1. website accessed 07/2020.
  2. NumPy GitHub repository.
  3. The Documentation System. accessed 07/2020.
  4. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. Project Gutenberg, Aug. 2015.
  5. Dewey, John. Quest for Certainty George Allen And Unwin Limited. 06/2005.