Evaluating the Expressiveness of a Conceptual Model
Represented in OntoUML and UML
Joselaine Valaski, Sheila Reinehr, Andreia Malucelli
PPGIa – Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (PUCPR)
Curitiba – PR – Brazil
Abstract. The expressiveness of a conceptual model depends on the set of
language symbols used for representation. UML is one of the most commonly
used languages for representing conceptual models. However, issues remain
regarding expressiveness that the language OntoUML proposes to resolve.
Therefore, we performed an experiment involving eight professionals and
eighty students to evaluate the expressiveness of both languages. The overall
analysis showed that OntoUML was selected by the participants the most
expressive language in 42% of the situations, while in 39% it was selected as
having the same level of expressiveness as UML. After further analyses, we
identified situations in which OntoUML was the most expressive.
Requirements elicitation is an activity that seeks to understand stakeholder needs, which
are then transformed into software requirements (Pohl, 1997). However, some flaws in
this activity exist. These derive from the fact that software engineering area attempts to
visualize technology as a solution to a problem without first fully understanding the
problem domain (Zanlorenci; Bunett, 1998). Conceptual modeling is the activity of
formally describing aspects of the physical and social world in order to understand it
fully (Mylopoulos, 1992). Thus, this activity is focused on modeling reality instead of
modeling the computing system (Guizzardi, 2005). From this point of view, conceptual
modeling can be an instrument that supports this activity of eliciting software
requirements, because it aids comprehending a problem domain.
One of the best known conceptual metamodels is entity relationship (ER).
However, the popularity of ER is also its main weakness (Castro, 2010): the metamodel
is simple, despite the fact that this assists conceptual modelers. However, the
metamodel is not highly expressive. UML is also a well-known language for building
conceptual models, but it has the same problem of expressiveness (Guizzardi, 2005).
The concepts from a universe of discourse are abstract entities that often exist only in
the minds of users. To capture these concepts, they must be represented through
concrete artifacts. This means a language must represent them in a concise, complete,
and unambiguous manner. A language that has flaws of expressiveness may
compromise understanding of requirements artifacts in later phases. According to
Mylopoulos (1992), the suitability of a conceptual modeling notation is based on its
contribution to the construction of models that represent reality, thus enabling a
common understanding between their human users. In this regard, Guizzardi (2005)
emphasizes using of languages with ontologically well-founded primitives that help
represent the reality of a problem’s domain as precisely as possible.
Considering these issues, Guizzardi (2005) proposed OntoUML, which is a
language used to represent ontology-based conceptual models. Because the language is
ontology-based, the conceptual models constructed in OntoUML are assumed to be
more expressive and to represent the real world of the domain more faithfully than do
other languages of conceptual representation. The constructs proposed in OntoUML
prevent the overload and redundancy found in other languages such as UML.
In his thesis, Guizzardi (2005) presents several specific situations in which the
expressiveness of OntoUML is found to be superior to that of other languages, including
UML. Although conceptual modeling is critical for an information system and software
engineering (Guizzardi & Wagner, 2012), (Melo & Almeida, 2014), few studies have
been conducted in this area that examine issues of expressiveness between OntoUML
and UML. Therefore, this study evaluated two conceptual models, those represented in
OntoUML and UML. Both models represented the same context. They were constructed
by specialists in each language and evaluated by professionals and students. The results
revealed situations in which OntoUML is more expressive and others in which the two
languages showed equal levels of clarity. The results thus revealed the benefits of using
OntoUML for conceptual modeling in eliciting software requirements.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. In Section 2 we present
some basic concepts related to OntoUML. In Section 3, we present our research method.
Section 4 discusses the results of our experiment. Section 5 includes final considerations
and indication for future studies.
OntoUML was proposed by Guizzardi (2005) based on the need for an ontology-based
language that would provide the necessary semantics to construct conceptual models
using concepts faithful to reality. The classes proposed in OntoUML are representations
of the Unified Foundational Ontology (UFO) constructs. These constructs are
represented using UML stereotypes.
In this study, only the main constructs that comprise the object type category are
presented (Guizzardi et al., 2011). In this category, constructs are more closely related
to the static conceptual modeling of a domain. The hierarchical structure of these
models is presented in Fig. 1. The object type constructs may be sortal and non-sortal.
Sortals provide identity and individuation principles to their instances, whereas non-
sortals do not supply any clear identification principles. Sortal constructs are classified
as rigid and anti-rigid sortals. A sortal is said to be rigid if it is necessarily applied to all
its instances in all possible worlds. A sortal is said to be anti-rigid if it is not necessarily
applied to all its instances. Rigid sortals include kind and subkind categories. A kind is a
rigid sortal and thus has intrinsic material properties that provide clear identity and
individuation principles. It determines existentially independent classes of things or
beings and are said to be functional complexes. A subkind is also a rigid type that
provides an identity principle and has some restrictions established and related to the
kind construct. Every object in a conceptual model must be an instance of only one
Two sub-categories of anti-rigid sortals exist: phases and roles. In both cases,
instances may change their types without affecting their identities. During the phase
construct, changes may occur as a result of changes to intrinsic properties. By contrast,
in the role construct, changes occur because of relational properties.
subKind Phase Role
Fig. 1 Fragment of a metamodel (Guizzardi, 2005)
3. Research Method
This section describes the phases of our experiment conducted to evaluate the
expressiveness of the OntoUML and UML languages in a specific context.
3.1 Selection of the Domain Description
The first step in our experiment consisted of defining a context for the construction of
the conceptual model. The objective was to select an uncommon domain, that is one not
commonly known (e.g., a library, a university.) with a smaller scope to lend feasibility
to the experiment. We believe that an uncommon domain brings more discussion to find
their concepts and relationships.
In accordance with these criteria, the software requirement specifications for an
electronic proxy software program were obtained from specialists in the domain. Based
on these specifications, a description of the main software features was written. This
description is presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Domain description
Only the organization’s representative can grant an electronic proxy.
An organization may have one or more representatives.
To allow the grantor to indicate an active user in the Receita-PR database to grant the
condition of the grantee.
Only one grantee per proxy.
Only one proxy per grantor and the same grantee.
The granting of a proxy is restricted to organizations with a record in the ICMS
To display the services to be granted.
To display a list of organizations (in which the grantor is the organization’s
representative) to be granted.
To select the organization allowed to perform all services.
To allow the grantor to revoke a proxy.
3.2 Construction of a Conceptual Model in OntoUML
Based on the scope defined in Section 3.1, specialists were selected to construct a
conceptual model in OntoUML. As OntoUML is still not a widely used language on the
market, few specialists in this language exist. One of the groups trained for this task is
the Ontology and Conceptual Modeling Research Group (NEMO). This group works on
research related to ontologies as well as OntoUML, and is led by Professor Giancarlo
Guizzardi, the creator of OntoUML. Considering their competence in this activity, an e-
mail was sent to the NEMO group with a description of the domain (Table 1), and the
construction of the respective conceptual model was requested. The constructed model
was a collaboration of the three members of the group. Some e-mails were exchanged
between the researchers and the specialists until a consensus was reached on the
representation of the model.
3.3 Construction of the Conceptual Model in UML
For constructing the conceptual model in UML, three specialists in the language were
selected, all of whom held advanced degrees in the field of software engineering and
had professional industry and academic experience. The description of the domain
(Table 1) was sent through e-mail to each specialist with a request to construct a
conceptual model based on the description. E-mails were exchanged between the
researchers and the specialists until a consensus was reached on the representation of
3.4 Evaluation of the Expressiveness of the Conceptual Models
The objective of this phase was to evaluate the expressiveness of the two conceptual
models constructed by the specialists (OntoUML and UML). Twelve statements were
derived from these models. Using these statements, an instrument was prepared to
evaluate if the statements were more clearly represented in the conceptual model in
OntoUML or UML, or whether both languages exhibited the same level of clarity. The
instrument created for the evaluation is wholly included in Appendix A.
After the instrument was prepared, a profile for the participants in the evaluation
was defined. Two distinct groups were selected, the first composed of eight
professionals educated in the field of computing with experience in UML modeling, and
the second group consisted of eighty students from undergraduate courses in the field of
computing. The experiment was performed only with classes that had already completed
the course on UML. Neither group (i.e., neither professionals nor students) had prior
knowledge of OntoUML. The experiment was first performed with the group of
professionals, a smaller and more experienced group that could validate the instrument.
Suggested improvements and corrections could thus be collected for later use with the
group of students. One of the improvements applied to the students was the creation of
two models of the instrument. In the first model (Model 1), UML appeared as the first
option in the list and this UML model appeared as Attachment 1. In the second model
(Model 2) (see Appendix A), OntoUML appeared as the first option in the list and the
OntoUML model appeared as Attachment 1. These were necessary to eliminate any bias
related to the order in which options in the list and models were presented. Thus,
Models 1 and 2 were distributed in alternation to the participants.
4. Results and Discussion
In this section, results are presented and discussed. First, the results concerning the
construction of the conceptual models by specialists are presented; afterwards results on
the evaluation of the expressiveness of the models by professionals and students.
4.1 Conceptual Model in OntoUML
Fig. 2 presents the final conceptual model constructed by specialists in OntoUML. To
finalize this version, these specialists asked researchers four rounds of questions to
Fig. 2 Conceptual model in OntoUML
The specialists in OntoUML revealed that the language’s richer nature generated
several questions concerning the domain, even after the scope was sent. The specialists
also noted that much of the information that is implied in a model must become explicit
when OntoUML is used. In all rounds, specialists revealed information that should be
included in the description of the scope so that creating a final model would be possible.
Much of the information was implied.
In this experiment, we observed that a high degree of formality and consistency
in OntoUML generated a variety of questions that perhaps would not occur with other
languages. This feedback reinforces the belief that conceptual models in OntoUML may
lend positive support to eliciting software requirements.
4.2 Conceptual Model in UML
Fig. 3 presents the final conceptual model constructed by specialists in UML. The
questions from the specialists were different in this case. Specialist 1 delivered the
version of UML with no questions to clarify. Specialist 2 asked a round of questions
and delivered the version. Finally, Specialist 3 asked two rounds of questions and
delivered the version.
Fig. 3 Conceptual model in UML
The three versions delivered differed considerably. Possible reasons for this
include the lower degree of formality of the language allows for distinct representations
of the same context, and the lack of semantic restrictions does not encourage
questioning during construction. In the delivered versions, a representation focused on
data persistence in a software program instead of on the concepts of a domain. This bias
may be indicative of the lack of use of conceptual models in UML for understanding a
domain. These observations should be studied in greater depth in future studies.
The version delivered by Specialist 3 was the closest to the representation of the
scope. An in-person meeting was held among specialists to complete the final version
presented in Fig. 3. With the two conceptual models (UML and OntoUML) constructed
by the specialists, the next phase of the experiment was to evaluate the expressiveness
of the models. The results are presented as follows.
4.3 Expressiveness of the Conceptual Models Constructed
First, results are presented for the pilot experiment performed with the professionals.
Table 2 presents an overview of the results. Considering that eight professionals
evaluated twelve statements, ninety-six choices were derived. Among these choices,
twelve (13%) indicated UML the most expressive, forty indicated OntoUML (42%) the
most expressive, and forty-four (46%) indicated the languages exhibited the same level
Table 2. Consolidated results of the choices by professional group
Number of Choices
Based on these initial results, we observed situations in which the languages
exhibit the same level of clarity, and others in which OntoUML exhibits a greater level
of clarity than UML. Only some situations occurred in which UML was more
expressive. Considering this first result, each statement was analyzed to identify the
situations in which the languages stood out. Fig. 4 presents the results for each
Fig. 4 Number of choices by professionals for each of the twelve statements
Fig. 4 shows that for Statements 1, 2, 7, 8, and 12, both languages exhibited the
same level of clarity. For Statements 3, 4, 5, 6, and 11, OntoUML exhibited a greater
level of clarity. Statements 9 and 10 revealed that OntoUML and both languages
exhibited equal clarity. There has not been any statement in which UML had been the
Since the professionals had more practical experience with modeling, they may
have had a different viewpoint than students from the field of computing, who have not
yet had considerable practical experience. Thus, the same experiment was performed
with students from different computing majors to identify their perceptions relative to
the expressiveness of the models.
Table 3 presents an overview of the results from the students. Eighty students
evaluated twelve statements, thus totaling nine hundred and sixty choices. Among these
choices, one hundred and eighty-one (19%) indicated UML the most expressive
language, four hundred and six (42%) indicated OntoUML the most expressive, and
three hundred and seventy-three (39%) indicated that the languages exhibited the same
level of clarity. The perception of the students, despite having less knowledge about
modeling, was very similar to those of the professionals. The students also identified
situations in which the two languages exhibited the same level of clarity, as well as
situations in which OntoUML exhibited a greater level of clarity than did UML. Only
some situations occurred in which UML was indicated the most expressive.
Table 3. Consolidated results of the choices by students group
Number of Choices
Table 3 presents the overall results for the eighty students. However, because
these are distinct groups (i.e., with different majors and class schedules) an analysis of
each class was also performed. Table 4 presents these individualized results. In addition,
Table 4 lists the major, the current semester of each student, and the number of
participating students. All classes agreed that OntoUML was more expressive for the
majority of statements. The exception was Class 3 in which OntoUML and Both got the
same percentage (45%). No classes considered UML to be the most expressive overall.
However, the perception of Class 1 and 5, showed a considerable difference relative to
UML: 6% and 29%, respectively. In other words, Class 5 considered UML more
expressive than OntoUML in at least 29% of the situations analyzed, whereas Class 1
considered UML more expressive in only 6% of the situations. This difference may be
related to the extent of student knowledge of UML. However, the reasons behind their
decisions cannot be determined only based on the results of this experiment.
Table 4. Choice of languages by students by class
Technology Analysis and Systems
As it happened with the professionals, the experiment with the students yielded
statements in which OntoUML was the most expressive and other statements in which
Both (OntoUML and UML) had same level of clarity. Thus, the results per statement
were evaluated. The overall results are presented in Fig. 5, which shows that for
Statements 1, 2, 7, 9, and 12, the two languages exhibited the same level of clarity. For
Statements 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 11, OntoUML exhibited a greater level of clarity. No
statements were identified in which UML was most frequently selected.
Fig. 5 Number of choices by students for each of the 12 statements
These results indicate situations in which OntoUML is more expressive than
UML and situations in which the two exhibit the same level of clarity. To better
understand these situations, we examined statements indicating consensus that
OntoUML was more expressive. The results were grouped by professionals, students
(all eighty), and class. This grouping is presented in Table 5. Table 5 reveals consensus
for Statements 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 11 (in gray) in which the representation in OntoUML
was the most expressive.
Table 5. Selection of the most expressive language by statement
In OntoUML, the Role construct was used to represent the concept in Statements
4, 5, 6, 10, and 11. Specifically, OntoUML used the role construct to establish that it is
relationally dependent on a universal concept, which carries the principle of identity and
individuation. Representing a relationship of specialization is then required. In addition,
in UML, because of the lack of semantic restrictions, the concepts for these same
statements were represented by means of associative relationships, in which the origin
of the concept is unclear. This finding became clearer when we evaluated Statement 9.
In this statement, the perceptions of the participants were identical. Although in
OntoUML, the role construct was also used, in UML a specialization was employed to
represent the concept, which, based on the perceptions of the participants, resulted in the
same level of expressiveness.
In Statement 3 the Relator construct was used. This construct allows the
multiplicities of a specific relationship to be expressed. In UML, associative
relationships were used. These do not allow for the expression of multiplicity in a
certain relationship. For example, in UML, representing that a relationship between the
same grantor and grantee occurs only once is not possible, even though a grantor may
be associated with various grantees and a grantee may be associated with various
grantors. Guizzardi (2005) discusses this deficiency in UML and in other languages.
We believe that if the participants knew OntoUML and the meaning of its
constructs, the results would have been even more positive. One example is the
representation of Statement 9. OntoUML can represent the fact that it is not sufficient
for the grantor to be the representative of an organization, but that the grantor must be
the representative from the same organization referenced in the proxy. In UML, only the
grantor as the representative of an organization is represented, and this may not
necessarily be the organization referenced in the proxy.
Conceptual models are considered crucial instruments to achieve consensus and
understanding of a domain. Thus, conceptual models are allies that support
requirements elicitation in unknown domains. However, the use of a certain language to
represent the model may undermine its expressiveness. UML is one of the most
commercially popular languages. However, according to Guizzardi (2005), flaws exist
in terms of its expressiveness. OntoUML is a more academic language, and is designed
to correct flaws of expressiveness in languages such as UML. Although Guizzardi
(2005) discussed several specific situations in which OntoUML is more expressive,
other studies have not been conducted that evaluate the perceptions of professionals and
students regarding the expressiveness of OntoUML.
The objective of this study was to collect these perceptions and identify
situations in which OntoUML is more expressive in an information systems context.
Although our participants lacked knowledge of the constructs of OntoUML, overall it
was considered more expressive than UML. In addition, various situations occurred in
which consensus was reached between the participating groups that OntoUML better
represents certain concepts. In addition, when conceptual models were constructed by
specialists during our experiment, OntoUML was determined to have a high degree of
formality and consistency. Our study showed that OntoUML causes modelers to
question the situations of a domain that are not explicit. Thus, models that are more
consistent and faithful to reality were built.
These results reinforce the need for a conceptual model represented in
OntoUML to support software requirements elicitation. This research can evolve many
different directions. One is developing a computational environment to support
constructing a conceptual model in OntoUML. This conceptual model can then support
the derivation of functional software requirements. Some results were present in Valaski
et al. (2014)
Appendix A. Instrument: Model 2
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