Conference Paper

UML collaboration diagram syntax: An empirical study of comprehension

Dept. of Comput. Sci., Glasgow Univ.
DOI: 10.1109/VISSOF.2002.1019790 Conference: Visualizing Software for Understanding and Analysis, 2002. Proceedings. First International Workshop on
Source: IEEE Xplore


The UML syntactic notation used in texts, papers, documentation and CASE tools is often different, despite UML being considered a software engineering standard. Our initial empirical study considered variations in the notation used for UML class diagrams; the experiment reported concentrates on UML collaboration diagrams. The decision as to which of the semantically equivalent notational variations within the UML standard to use appears to be according to the personal preference of the author or publisher, rather than based on any consideration of the ease with which the notation can be understood by human readers. This paper reports on an experiment that takes a human comprehension perspective on UML collaboration diagrams. Five notations were considered: for each, two semantically equivalent (yet syntactically or stylistically different), variations were chosen from published texts. Our experiment required subjects to indicate whether a supplied pseudo-code specification matched each of a set of experimental UML collaboration diagrams. The results reveal that our informal, personal intuitions (which were based on our view of the complexity of the notation) are validated with respect to confirming that a specification matches a diagram, but not when errors in a diagram are to be identified. The subjects' preferences are in favour of the more concise notational variants.

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Available from: Matthew John McGill, Aug 11, 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Context: The conventional wisdom states that stereotypes are used to clarify or extend the meaning of model elements and consequently should be helpful in comprehending the diagram semantics. Objective: The main goal of this work is to present a family of experiments that we have carried out to investigate whether the use of stereotypes improves the comprehension of UML sequence diagrams. Method: The family of experiments consists of an experiment and two replications carried out with 78, 29 and 36 undergraduate Computer Science students, respectively. The comprehension of UML sequence diagrams with and without stereotypes was analyzed from three different perspectives borrowed from the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML): semantic comprehension, retention and transfer. In addition, we carried out a meta-analysis study to integrate the different data samples. Results: The statistical analysis and meta-analysis of the data obtained from each experiment separately indicates that the use of the proposed stereotypes helps improving the comprehension of the diagrams, especially when the subjects are not familiar with the domain. Conclusions: The set of stereotypes presented in this work seem to be helpful for a better comprehension of UML sequence diagrams, especially with not well-known domains. Although further research is necessary for strengthening these results, introducing these stereotypes both in academia and industry could be an interesting practice for checking the validity of the results.
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    • "The main focus of previous work on UML diagram types and their layout has been with one of four aspects: diagram comprehension (cf. [26], [27], [20], [21] and/or user preference (cf. [18], [29]), automatic layout (cf. "
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    • "YES NO 383 Order Item [9] NO NO 42 (after fix) Purchase Order [4] YES NO 246 Company Store [1] YES YES 22 Information Exchange [14] YES YES 50 Voting Booth [15] NO NO 59 (after fix) Causality Model [20] YES NO 116 "
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