Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Learn Mathematica: Fourth Assignment

A Mathematica Primer from the Documentation Center

The Documentation Center is Mathematica's comprehensive online help facility. Introduced in version 6, many experienced Mathematica users found it overwhelming. That is a good sign. The Documentation Center is an advanced version of what you might find for other languages or programming environments. There is information on the 4000 built-in functions, hundreds of tutorials, connections to Mathematica's Demonstrations database and to the Wolfram Research website, from which you can connect to the mathematical encyclopedia, MathWorld, the Functions site with over 70,000 functions in Mathematica code, the Mathematica Journal, and a myriad of other resources.

The Documentation Center ("Doc Center") and other resources are very well-organized. Related material is indicated for all topics and hyperlinked. The Doc Center is a browser and you can click Back to return to pages you have viewed in the current session. Context-sensitive Help is available by clicking the first function key, F1, no matter where you are (it defaults to Documentation Center Home).

You can enter any keywords in the search box at the top of the Doc Center and it will bring up a list of related topics. The search box automatically assumes you are using a wildcard at the end of any word or phrase. Further, there is an autocomplete/related terms feature that will suggest what you might have intended to be looking for.

There is an excellent collection of introductory reading material as well, and pouring through that is your next assignment in this book.

Fourth Assignment: Orientation in the Documentation Center ("Doc Center")

If it is not open already, open the Doc Center under the Help menu or by clicking F1 and then the Home icon. Take a look at the Getting Started Videos and Find Your Learning Path links at the top of the page.

Here are some tutorials on Mathematica basics. Choose one and copy and paste it into the Search box at the top of the Doc Center window.

The Four Kinds of Bracketing in Mathematica
The Meaning Of Expressions
Everything Is An Expression
Some General Notations and Conventions
Building Up Calculations Overview
Exact And Approximate Results

Scan this listing of Mathematica's menu, but over time, focus in on the commands that your interests require. Copy and paste it into the Doc Center Search box.

Menu Items

The Documentation Center is mirrored on the world wide web (see "URL" at top right of all Doc Center pages), but there is much more information on the web as well. When you search in the Doc Center, you are offered a link to results from Wolfram websites. And here is a very handy Wolfram site search engine with an alphabetical listing of contents and a drop-down menu of specific sites to search. It's fun to peruse as well as search.


1. In the Doc Center, do a general search using five keywords about the topics you'd most like to read about.

2. To find a built-in function versus all topics related to its name, we capitalize it. Search "list", review the topics that return, and then search "List", which will take you to the built-in function page on Mathematica's pervasive data structure, the List.

3. In a Notebook, type ?List* to bring up all built-in functions beginning with "List...". Click on "List". Then click on the double arrows at the end of the blurb on List for more information, which should take you to List in the Doc Center.

4. Go to Pick a letter and peruse the listings in its section. Then choose a specific site from the drop-down menu and search for something of interest to you.

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