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Effects of structure on the comprehensibility of formal specifications

Effects of structure on the comprehensibility of formal specifications

Finney, K., Fenton, N. and Fedorec, A. (1999) Effects of structure on the comprehensibility of formal specifications. IEE Proceedings Software, 146 (4). pp. 193-202. ISSN 1462-5970 (doi:10.1049/ip-sen:19990600)

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Abstract

Use of structuring mechanisms (such as modularisation) is widely believed to be one of the key ways to improve software quality. Structuring is considered to be at least as important for specification documents as for source code, since it is assumed to improve comprehensibility. Yet, as with most widely held assumptions in software engineering, there is little empirical evidence to support this hypothesis. Also, even if structuring can be shown to he a good thing, we do not know how much structuring is somehow optimal. One of the more popular formal specification languages, Z, encourages structuring through its schema calculus. A controlled experiment is described in which two hypotheses about the effects of structure on the comprehensibility of Z specifications are tested. Evidence was found that structuring a specification into schemas of about 20 lines long significantly improved comprehensibility over a monolithic specification. However, there seems to be no perceived advantage in breaking down the schemas into much smaller components. The experiment can he fully replicated.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: formal specification, software quality, specification languages
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences
School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences > Centre for Numerical Modelling & Process Analysis
School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences > Centre for Numerical Modelling & Process Analysis > Fire Safety Engineering Group
School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences > Computer & Computational Science Research Group
School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences > Department of Computer Science
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 08:59
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/193

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