Handling missing values: Beginners Tutorial

Handling missing values: Beginners Tutorial

5 mins read40.9K Views Comment
Updated on Feb 21, 2023 15:57 IST

We take data from sometimes sources like kaggle.com, sometimes we collect from different sources by doing web scrapping containing missing values in it. But do you think 


  • We can collect data and start doing our work? 
  • Can we implement machine learning algorithms using that data? 

The answer is no. Because the data collected is unprocessed. Unprocessed data must be containing some

  • Missing values
  • Outliers
  • Unstructured manner
  • Categorical data(which needs to be converted to numerical variables)

 For understanding different techniques for handling categorical data and their implementation you can read my series of blogs.

Handling Categorical Variables with One-Hot Encoding
Handling Categorical Variables with One-Hot Encoding
Handling categorical variables with one-hot encoding involves converting non-numeric categories into binary columns. Each category becomes a column with ‘1’ for the presence of that category and ‘0’ for others,...read more
One hot encoding vs label encoding in Machine Learning
One hot encoding vs label encoding in Machine Learning
As in the previous blog, we come to know that the machine learning model can’t process categorical variables. So when we have categorical variables in our dataset then we...read more
One hot encoding for multi categorical variables
One hot encoding for multi categorical variables

So the first step is to do data preprocessing, before looking for any insights from the data, then only we can train our machine learning model.

Note: Uncleaned data can’t be processed by most of the machine learning algorithms.

Missing value in a dataset is a very common phenomenon in the reality, yet a big problem in real-life scenarios. Missing Data can also refer to as NA(Not Available) values in pandas. In DataFrame sometimes many datasets simply arrive with missing data, either because it exists and was not collected or it never existed. For example, Suppose during a survey 

  • Different users may choose not to share their addresses
  • There might be a failure in recording the values due to human error.
  • Due to improper maintenance past data might get corrupted.

In this way, many datasets went missing. Let’s have a look at the missing data in the dataset below.

In this blog, you will see how to handle missing values. Missing value correction is required to reduce bias and to produce powerful suitable models. 

So, let’s begin with the methods to solve the problem. Since it is a beginners level blog so I will be covering three techniques in this blog

  • Fillna
  • Interpolate
  • Dropna

“Data is the food for Machine Learning algorithms”

1. Delete Rows with Missing Values

One way of handling missing values is the deletion of the rows or columns having null values. If any columns have more than half of the values as null then you can drop the entire column. In the same way, rows can also be dropped if having one or more columns values as null. Before using this method one thing we have to keep in mind is that we should not be losing information. Because if the information we are deleting is contributing to the output value then we should not use this method because this will affect our output.

When to delete the rows/column in a dataset?

  • If a certain column has many missing values then you can choose to drop the entire column.
  • When you have a huge dataset. Deleting for e.g. 2-3 rows/columns will not make much difference.
  • Output results do not depend on the Deleted data. 

Note: No doubt it is one of the quick techniques one can use to deal with missing values. But this approach is not recommended. 

2. Replacing With Arbitrary Value

If you can replace the missing value with some arbitrary value using fillna().

Ex. In the below code, we are replacing the missing values with ‘0’.As well you can replace any particular column missing values with some arbitrary value also.

  • Replacing with previous value – Forward fill

We can impute the values with the previous value by using forward fill. It is mostly used in time series data.

Syntax: df.fillna(method=’ffill’)

  • Replacing with next value – Backward fill

In backward fill, the missing value is imputed using the next value. It is mostly used in time series data.

3. Interpolation

Missing values can also be imputed using ‘interpolation’. Pandas interpolate method can be used to replace the missing values with different interpolation methods like ‘polynomial’, ‘linear’, ‘quadratic’. The default method is ‘linear’.

Syntax: df.interpolate(method=’linear’)

For the time-series dataset variable, it makes sense to use the interpolation of the variable before and after a timestamp for a missing value. Interpolation in most cases supposed to be the best technique to fill missing values.

Handling missing values: python code:

We have taken dataset titanic.csv which is freely available at kaggle.com.This dataset was taken as it has missing values.

1.Reading the data

import pandas as pd
df = pd.read_csv("train.csv", usecols=['Age','Fare','Survived'])

The dataset is read and used three columns ‘Age’, ’Fare’, ’Survived’.

2. Checking if there are missing values

Survived      4
Age         179
Fare          2
dtype: int64

3.Filling missing values with 0

new_df = df.fillna(0)

4. Filling NaN values with forward fill value

new_df = df.fillna(method="ffill")

If we use forward fill that simply means we are forwarding the previous value where ever we have NaN values.

5. Setting forward fill limit to 1 

new_df = df.fillna(method="ffill",limit=1)

Now we have set the limit of forward fill to 1 which means that only once, the value will be copied below. Like in this case we had three NaN values consecutively in column Survived. But one NaN value was filled only as the limit is set to 1.

6. Filling NaN values in Backward Direction

new_df = df.fillna(method="bfill")new_df    

7. Interpolate of missing values

new_df = df.interpolate() 

In this, we were having two values 22 and 26. And in between value was a NaN value. So that NaN value is computed by getting the mean of 22 and 26 i.e. 24. In the same way, other NaN values were also computed.

8. Dropna()

new_df = df.dropna()

Previously we were having 891 rows and after running this code we are left with 710 rows because some of the rows were continuing NaN values were dropped.

9. Deleting the rows having all NaN values

new_df = df.dropna(how='all')

Those rows in which all the values are NaN values will be deleted. If the row even has one value even then it will not be dropped.


It’s my suggestion to download any other dataset(having missing values) and try this simple code. And check where it is needed to drop the row or column and when to fill the values or when to impute the values.


Every dataset has some missing values that need to be handled. The first step is to explore the data and check out which variable has missing data, what is the percentage. Then you have to decide what methods you could try. There is no hard and fast rule to handle missing values in a particular manner. You have to try different methods for it, depending on how and what the data is about. This blog offers a beginner’s level way of handling missing data. In the next blog will try replacing values and predicting the missing values. Stay tuned!!!

If you like my blog please share it with others also.

About the Author

This is a collection of insightful articles from domain experts in the fields of Cloud Computing, DevOps, AWS, Data Science, Machine Learning, AI, and Natural Language Processing. The range of topics caters to upski... Read Full Bio