I am working on a text classification problem using Random Forest as classifiers, and a bag-of-words approach. I am using the basic implementation of Random Forests (the one present in scikit), that creates a binary condition on a single variable at each split. Given this, is there a difference between using simple tf (term frequency) features. where each word has an associated weight that represents the number of occurrences in the document, or tf-idf (term frequency * inverse document frequency), where the term frequency is also multiplied by a value that represents the ratio between the total number of documents and the number of documents containing the word)?

In my opinion, there should not be any difference between these two approaches, because the only difference is a scaling factor on each feature, but since the split is done at the level of single features this should not make a difference.

Am I right in my reasoning?

  • $\begingroup$ Why not test out both approaches on a small sample set and see if there's any difference? $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2014 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


Decision trees (and hence Random Forests) are insensitive to monotone transformations of input features.

Since multiplying by the same factor is a monotone transformation, I'd assume that for Random Forests there indeed is no difference.

However, you eventually may consider using other classifiers that do not have this property, so it may still make sense to use the entire TF * IDF.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was just trying to figure out if my reasoning was correct, so I will keep using Random Forests, thanks for your help! $\endgroup$
    – papafe
    Sep 23, 2014 at 14:32

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