What Is Data Wrangling: Tools, Process, & Examples

May 22, 2024
20 min read

Data is critical for organizations to drive analytics and complex decision-making processes. Almost all organizations collect vast amounts of data from various sources. However, this raw data often contains errors, inconsistencies, missing values, structural complexities, and hidden biases that hinder analysis. Such imperfections can severely compromise the reliability of data analyses, leading to misinterpretations and misguided business decisions.

Data wrangling provides a feasible solution to address these challenges by transforming raw data into a reliable and usable format ready for accurate analysis. In this blog, we will look into the fundamentals of data wrangling, popular tools, potential career paths, and more. 

What is Data Wrangling, and Why is it Essential?

Data Wrangling, also known as data munging, is a critical step in the data analysis process that directly affects the quality and reliability of the resulting insights. The process involves cleaning, transforming, and organizing raw data into a more accessible and interpretable format. Tasks in data wrangling include identifying and correcting inconsistencies, filling in missing values, removing duplicates, etc. Additionally, it involves structuring the data, often converting it into a tabular format for easier manipulation in analytical applications. 

There are several reasons why data wrangling is considered to be an indispensable part of the data analysis workflow. Let’s look into some of these reasons.

  • Improved Data Quality: Data Wrangling enhances data accuracy, reliability, and consistency by identifying and correcting errors and other gaps. This ensures that the insights are derived from trustworthy data, preventing decisions on inaccurate information.
  • Efficient Analysis: By converting raw data into a more usable format, data wrangling alleviates much of the burden on analysts who would otherwise spend considerable time cleaning data. So, analysts can focus more on extracting insights than on data preparation.
  • Better Decision Making: High-quality, well-structured data leads to more informed and effective business decisions. Data wrangling provides reliable data, enabling you to make informed decisions based on accurate and comprehensive information.

How Data Wrangling Works?

how Data Wrangling Works

The data wrangling process is a systematic approach to transforming raw data into a clean, structured, and analysis-ready format. It involves several key steps.

1. Data Acquisition

The first step in the data wrangling process is to collect data from various sources such as APIs, databases, and data streams. Once the data has been collected, it is important to profile and understand it. This involves exploring the dataset to identify patterns, anomalies, and potential issues. Data wrangling involves using various techniques, such as data visualization and statistical analysis, to gain insights into the data's structure, distribution, and relationships. This step helps determine the necessary transformations and cleaning operations required for the subsequent steps in the data-wrangling process.

2. Data Structuring

Once you have a clear understanding of your data, the next step is to organize it into a structured format. Analyzing raw data can be challenging due to its varying formats and structures. The structuring step involves reshaping the data to fit the desired analysis models, such as tabular or hierarchical forms. Common tasks include pivoting, melting, or transposing the data to ensure consistency and compatibility for subsequent analysis.

3. Data Cleaning

Data cleaning is one of the most time-consuming but essential steps for ensuring the reliability of your analysis. It involves identifying and correcting errors, dealing with missing values, and standardizing data entries to enhance data quality. Some of the commonly used techniques are pattern matching, filtering, and algorithmic checks.

4. Enriching Data

Enrichment involves adding value to your data by incorporating additional context or merging it with other relevant datasets. This can include combining data from various sources to create new variables or applying domain-specific transformations. For example, enrichment could involve segmenting customers into a dataset based on their purchasing behavior.

5. Data Validation

Data validation is the quality assurance step that ensures the data meets certain quality thresholds and is suitable for its intended use. This step involves defining data integrity-verifying rules and tests, such as checking if values fall within expected ranges or if relationships between variables are accurate. Validation utilizes statistical methods, such as hypothesis testing or regression analysis, or relying on domain expertise.

6. Publishing

The final step of data wrangling involves storing the cleaned and structured data in a readily accessible format for analysis. This may involve storing the data in a database, data warehouse, or analytics platform. It also involves documenting data with metadata detailing its content, structure, and any transformation it has undergone.

Examples of Data Wrangling

Data Standardization

Data wrangling ensures consistency across datasets by converting diverse values into standard formats. This might involve:

  • unifying units of measurement (e.g., converting kilograms to pounds),
  • standardizing currency representations (e.g., formatting all currencies to USD), or
  • aligning categorical values (e.g., ensuring all country names use the exact format).

This standardized data enables seamless analysis and comparisons across multiple sources.

Merging Customer Data for Behavior Analysis

Customer data is often scattered across various sources, such as sales records, website activity logs, and loyalty programs. Data wrangling addresses this by merging fragmented data using common identifiers like customer IDs or email addresses. This allows analysts to create comprehensive customer profiles for more in-depth behavioral analysis and targeted marketing strategies.

Text Processing for Sentiment Analysis

Text data from sources like social media posts, customer reviews, or online surveys can contain valuable insights. However, they often contain unstructured elements such as punctuation, slang, and informal language. Data wrangling refines this text data by removing punctuation, normalizing text casing, handling abbreviations, emojis, etc. This preprocessed text can then be used for sentiment analysis to gauge public opinion towards a brand or product.

Data Wrangling Vs Data Cleaning

Data wrangling and data cleaning are closely related concepts and are often used interchangeably. However, they represent different phases within the data preparation process. 

Data Wrangling: Data wrangling encompasses the entire process of transforming raw data into a suitable format for analysis. It includes several stages: acquisition, structuring, cleaning, enriching, validating, and publishing. 

Data Cleaning: Data cleaning, a critical subset of data wrangling, focuses on identifying and resolving issues related to data quality. The main goal of data cleaning is to enhance the quality and reliability of data. Common tasks typically performed during data cleaning include handling missing values, removing duplicates, correcting typos, and standardizing formats.

Popular Tools For Data Wrangling

Data wrangling tools have significantly evolved over the years, offering professionals a wide range of options to clean, structure, and enrich their data effectively. These tools cater to various skill levels and use cases, from simple data tasks to sophisticated data science applications.

Data wrangling tools can be broadly categorized into the following:

  • Basic Tools: These include spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets. They are widely accessible, user-friendly, and ideal for straightforward tasks like filtering, sorting, and basic computations. 
  • Programming Languages: For more advanced data manipulation, programming languages like Python and R offer extensive flexibility and automation capabilities. With its powerful libraries, such as Pandas and NumPy, Python enables you to handle complex data structures and perform advanced transformations. On the other hand, R is known for its robust statistical computing capabilities and extensive package ecosystem, making it a favorite among data scientists.
  • Dedicated Data Wrangling Software: Intermediate tools like Alteryx serve to bridge the gap between spreadsheets and programming languages. These tools provide intuitive interfaces and pre-built functions to streamline the data-wrangling process. They often include features like data profiling, visual data transformation, and data quality checks, making them suitable for both technical and non-technical users.
  • Integrated Data Science Platforms: Platforms such as KNIME, RapidMiner, and Dataiku offer comprehensive environments that include data wrangling capabilities alongside other critical data science functionalities. These platforms are suitable for end-to-end projects, from data preparation to modeling and visualization. 

Here are some of the brief use cases for each type of data wrangling tool: 

Tool Type Use Case
Spreadsheets Basic data cleaning, handling small datasets, non-technical users
Programming Languages (Python, R, etc.) Complex transformations on large datasets, automation
Dedicated Data Wrangling Software Visual data transformation, data profiling, collaboration
Integrated Data Platforms End-to-end data movement, workflow management, team collaboration

Ultimately, the choice of data wrangling tools depends on factors such as the complexity of the data, the user’s technical skills, and specific project requirements. By selecting the right tools, organizations can effectively convert their raw data into meaningful insights, aiding in making better decisions.

Potential Career Paths

Mastering data wrangling techniques can provide various career opportunities within the data science field and related areas. Here are some prominent roles to consider.

  • Data Analyst: Data analysts heavily rely on data wrangling skills to transform raw data into usable formats for analysis. They create detailed reports, identify trends, and generate insights to drive business decisions. Experienced data analysts can transition into specialized roles in sectors like marketing or finance.
  • Data Engineer: Individuals with strong programming and data wrangling skills are well-suited to become data engineers. They design, build, and maintain data pipelines to support the flow of high-quality data to various data-driven applications.
  • Data Scientist: Data scientists leverage data wrangling skills alongside statistics and machine learning. They build complex models for prediction, classification, and other advanced analytical tasks. Proficiency in data wrangling allows data scientists to build better models, ensuring the effectiveness of their solutions.
  • Database Administrator (DBA): Data wrangling skills provide a solid foundation for this role, as DBAs ensure data integrity, security, and performance to support accessibility for various users within the organization.
  • Business Intelligence (BI) Developer: BI developers utilize clean and well-structured data—a direct result of effective data wrangling—to design insightful dashboards and reports. Data wrangling skills are essential for transforming raw data into formats suitable for visualization and clearly communicating data-driven insights to stakeholders.
  • Specialized Roles: With the growing complexity of data environments, some organizations, particularly large organizations with complex data ecosystems, now offer roles specifically dedicated to data wrangling. These positions focus on ensuring that high-quality data is accessible across various business units.

Having an established career in the above-mentioned roles allows you to handle the data-wrangling process efficiently. However, it completely depends on the size and structure of the organization, the complexity of the data, the level of expertise, and specific project requirements.

Best Practices for Effective Data Wrangling

Data wrangling is a critical but potentially time-consuming and error-prone phase of data analysis. To enhance efficiency and accuracy, consider these best practices:

  • Start With Clear Goals: Clearly define your analysis objectives before beginning the data wrangling process. Understanding the end goal helps prioritize tasks and ensures that the data manipulation aligns with the intended purpose.
  • Document Thoroughly: Maintain detailed records of every change you make to the data, including naming conventions, formulas used, and reasons for edits. Effective documentation ensures reproducibility and collaboration while also simplifying troubleshooting and future audits.
  • Work Iteratively: Data wrangling is rarely a linear process. Be prepared to revisit steps, refine your approach, and make adjustments as you uncover more insights or encounter unforeseen challenges.
  • Automate Repetitive Tasks: Identify repetitive tasks and automate them using scripts or tools. Automation saves time, reduces errors, and ensures consistency across datasets.
  • Implement Version Control: Use version control systems like Git to manage changes in data and scripts. This practice supports collaboration, facilitates easy rollbacks when needed, and maintains historical records for accountability.
  • Choose the Right Tools: Select tools that best suit your skill level, meet the project complexity, and can handle the dataset size efficiently. Using the wrong tool will only result in unnecessary complications and lower efficiency.

By adhering to these best practices, data wranglers can streamline their workflow, improve data quality, and deliver reliable and valuable insights.

What’s The Difference Between Data Wrangling and ETL?

In this section, you will understand some of the major differences between data wrangling and ETL:

Attributes Data Wrangling ETL
Definition Process of converting raw data into a suitable format for analysis through cleaning, enriching, and validating it. Process involving extracting data from various sources, transforming it into a consistent format, and loading it into a destination system (data lake or data warehouse).
Focus Data quality for analysis Data integration and centralized storage
Support for Data Types Structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data Mostly structured data (some ETL tools handle semi-structured)
Data Sources APIs, databases, data streams, etc. Relational databases, NoSQL databases, flat files
Data Transformation Normalization, standardization, encoding, etc. for analysis Transformation to make source data compatible with destination system
Scalability Scalable up to a point (large data volumes can be complex) Highly scalable (designed for growing data volumes)
User Base Data analysts, business users, data scientists Data engineers and ETL developers
Ease of Use Flexible and user-friendly Requires minimal user intervention (process-driven, pre-defined rules)
Use Cases Exploratory Data Analysis, statistical analytics Data warehousing, data integration, reporting

Supercharge Your Data Wrangling Workflow with Airbyte


Airbyte is a powerful open-source data integration platform that seamlessly complements your data-wrangling workflow. Its library of over 350 pre-built connectors allows you to effortlessly consolidate data from various sources, including databases, APIs, SaaS applications, and more. Airbyte also provides CDK (Custom Developer Kit), which allows you to create custom connectors that fit your needs.

Consolidating data from different sources into a centralized location makes it easy to clean, structure, and transform the data in one go. This streamlined workflow allows you to spend less time on data preparation and more time analyzing your data. 

Additionally, Airbyte’s Change Data Capture (CDC) feature enables it to automatically optimize computational resources and reduce redundancy while handling large volumes of data.


Data wrangling is crucial for effective data analysis, even though it can sometimes feel tedious. It forms the foundation for deriving reliable insights by ensuring data quality and consistency. These insights directly impact business efficiency and strategic decision-making, making data wrangling a crucial aspect of success for both aspiring data professionals and organizations. To maximize the potential of your organization’s data, consider investing in data wrangling capabilities and stay updated with the best practices in the field.

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