A Systematic Literature Review of Software Visualization Evaluation

Leonel Merino, Mohammad Ghafari, Craig Anslow, and Oscar Nierstrasz. A Systematic Literature Review of Software Visualization Evaluation. In Journal of Systems and Software 144 p. 165-180, October 2018. Details.


Abstract Context: Software visualizations can help developers to analyze multiple aspects of complex software systems, but their effectiveness is often uncertain due to the lack of evaluation guidelines. Objective: We identify common problems in the evaluation of software visualizations with the goal of formulating guidelines to improve future evaluations. Method: We review the complete literature body of 387 full papers published in the SOFTVIS/VISSOFT conferences, and study 181 of those from which we could extract evaluation strategies, data collection methods, and other aspects of the evaluation. Results: Of the proposed software visualization approaches, 62% lack a strong evaluation. We argue that an effective software visualization should not only boost time and correctness but also recollection, usability, engagement, and other emotions. Conclusion: We call on researchers proposing new software visualizations to provide evidence of their effectiveness by conducting thorough (i) case studies for approaches that must be studied in situ, and when variables can be controlled, (ii) experiments with randomly selected participants of the target audience and real-world open source software systems to promote reproducibility and replicability. We present guidelines to increase the evidence of the effectiveness of software visualization approaches, thus improving their adoption rate.

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