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Feature Engineering for Machine Learning

Feature engineering is the pre-processing step of machine learning, which is used to transform raw data into features that can be used for creating a predictive model using Machine learning or statistical Modelling. Feature engineering in machine learning aims to improve the performance of models. In this topic, we will understand the details about feature engineering in Machine learning. But before going into details, let's first understand what features are? And What is the need for feature engineering?

Feature Engineering for Machine Learning

What is a feature?

Generally, all machine learning algorithms take input data to generate the output. The input data remains in a tabular form consisting of rows (instances or observations) and columns (variable or attributes), and these attributes are often known as features. For example, an image is an instance in computer vision, but a line in the image could be the feature. Similarly, in NLP, a document can be an observation, and the word count could be the feature. So, we can say a feature is an attribute that impacts a problem or is useful for the problem.

What is Feature Engineering?

Feature engineering is the pre-processing step of machine learning, which extracts features from raw data. It helps to represent an underlying problem to predictive models in a better way, which as a result, improve the accuracy of the model for unseen data. The predictive model contains predictor variables and an outcome variable, and while the feature engineering process selects the most useful predictor variables for the model.

Feature Engineering for Machine Learning

Since 2016, automated feature engineering is also used in different machine learning software that helps in automatically extracting features from raw data. Feature engineering in ML contains mainly four processes: Feature Creation, Transformations, Feature Extraction, and Feature Selection.

These processes are described as below:

  1. Feature Creation: Feature creation is finding the most useful variables to be used in a predictive model. The process is subjective, and it requires human creativity and intervention. The new features are created by mixing existing features using addition, subtraction, and ration, and these new features have great flexibility.
  2. Transformations: The transformation step of feature engineering involves adjusting the predictor variable to improve the accuracy and performance of the model. For example, it ensures that the model is flexible to take input of the variety of data; it ensures that all the variables are on the same scale, making the model easier to understand. It improves the model's accuracy and ensures that all the features are within the acceptable range to avoid any computational error.
  3. Feature Extraction: Feature extraction is an automated feature engineering process that generates new variables by extracting them from the raw data. The main aim of this step is to reduce the volume of data so that it can be easily used and managed for data modelling. Feature extraction methods include cluster analysis, text analytics, edge detection algorithms, and principal components analysis (PCA).
  4. Feature Selection: While developing the machine learning model, only a few variables in the dataset are useful for building the model, and the rest features are either redundant or irrelevant. If we input the dataset with all these redundant and irrelevant features, it may negatively impact and reduce the overall performance and accuracy of the model. Hence it is very important to identify and select the most appropriate features from the data and remove the irrelevant or less important features, which is done with the help of feature selection in machine learning. "Feature selection is a way of selecting the subset of the most relevant features from the original features set by removing the redundant, irrelevant, or noisy features."

Below are some benefits of using feature selection in machine learning:

  • It helps in avoiding the curse of dimensionality.
  • It helps in the simplification of the model so that the researchers can easily interpret it.
  • It reduces the training time.
  • It reduces overfitting hence enhancing the generalization.

Need for Feature Engineering in Machine Learning

In machine learning, the performance of the model depends on data pre-processing and data handling. But if we create a model without pre-processing or data handling, then it may not give good accuracy. Whereas, if we apply feature engineering on the same model, then the accuracy of the model is enhanced. Hence, feature engineering in machine learning improves the model's performance. Below are some points that explain the need for feature engineering:

  • Better features mean flexibility.
    In machine learning, we always try to choose the optimal model to get good results. However, sometimes after choosing the wrong model, still, we can get better predictions, and this is because of better features. The flexibility in features will enable you to select the less complex models. Because less complex models are faster to run, easier to understand and maintain, which is always desirable.
  • Better features mean simpler models.
    If we input the well-engineered features to our model, then even after selecting the wrong parameters (Not much optimal), we can have good outcomes. After feature engineering, it is not necessary to do hard for picking the right model with the most optimized parameters. If we have good features, we can better represent the complete data and use it to best characterize the given problem.
  • Better features mean better results.
    As already discussed, in machine learning, as data we will provide will get the same output. So, to obtain better results, we must need to use better features.

Steps in Feature Engineering

The steps of feature engineering may vary as per different data scientists and ML engineers. However, there are some common steps that are involved in most machine learning algorithms, and these steps are as follows:

  • Data Preparation: The first step is data preparation. In this step, raw data acquired from different resources are prepared to make it in a suitable format so that it can be used in the ML model. The data preparation may contain cleaning of data, delivery, data augmentation, fusion, ingestion, or loading.
  • Exploratory Analysis: Exploratory analysis or Exploratory data analysis (EDA) is an important step of features engineering, which is mainly used by data scientists. This step involves analysis, investing data set, and summarization of the main characteristics of data. Different data visualization techniques are used to better understand the manipulation of data sources, to find the most appropriate statistical technique for data analysis, and to select the best features for the data.
  • Benchmark: Benchmarking is a process of setting a standard baseline for accuracy to compare all the variables from this baseline. The benchmarking process is used to improve the predictability of the model and reduce the error rate.

Feature Engineering Techniques

Some of the popular feature engineering techniques include:

1. Imputation

Feature engineering deals with inappropriate data, missing values, human interruption, general errors, insufficient data sources, etc. Missing values within the dataset highly affect the performance of the algorithm, and to deal with them "Imputation" technique is used. Imputation is responsible for handling irregularities within the dataset.

For example, removing the missing values from the complete row or complete column by a huge percentage of missing values. But at the same time, to maintain the data size, it is required to impute the missing data, which can be done as:

  • For numerical data imputation, a default value can be imputed in a column, and missing values can be filled with means or medians of the columns.
  • For categorical data imputation, missing values can be interchanged with the maximum occurred value in a column.

2. Handling Outliers

Outliers are the deviated values or data points that are observed too away from other data points in such a way that they badly affect the performance of the model. Outliers can be handled with this feature engineering technique. This technique first identifies the outliers and then remove them out.

Standard deviation can be used to identify the outliers. For example, each value within a space has a definite to an average distance, but if a value is greater distant than a certain value, it can be considered as an outlier. Z-score can also be used to detect outliers.

3. Log transform

Logarithm transformation or log transform is one of the commonly used mathematical techniques in machine learning. Log transform helps in handling the skewed data, and it makes the distribution more approximate to normal after transformation. It also reduces the effects of outliers on the data, as because of the normalization of magnitude differences, a model becomes much robust.

Note: Log transformation is only applicable for the positive values; else, it will give an error. To avoid this, we can add 1 to the data before transformation, which ensures transformation to be positive.

4. Binning

In machine learning, overfitting is one of the main issues that degrade the performance of the model and which occurs due to a greater number of parameters and noisy data. However, one of the popular techniques of feature engineering, "binning", can be used to normalize the noisy data. This process involves segmenting different features into bins.

5. Feature Split

As the name suggests, feature split is the process of splitting features intimately into two or more parts and performing to make new features. This technique helps the algorithms to better understand and learn the patterns in the dataset.

The feature splitting process enables the new features to be clustered and binned, which results in extracting useful information and improving the performance of the data models.

6. One hot encoding

One hot encoding is the popular encoding technique in machine learning. It is a technique that converts the categorical data in a form so that they can be easily understood by machine learning algorithms and hence can make a good prediction. It enables group the of categorical data without losing any information.


In this topic, we have explained a detailed description of feature engineering in machine learning, working of feature engineering, techniques, etc.

Although feature engineering helps in increasing the accuracy and performance of the model, there are also other methods that can increase prediction accuracy. Moreover, from the above-given techniques, there are many more available techniques of feature engineering, but we have mentioned the most commonly used techniques.

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