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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Structured tools and conditional logic: an empirical investigation

Prior research has identified two psychological processes that appear to be used by programmers when they perform design and coding tasks: (a) taxonomizing—identifying the conditions that evoke particular actions; and (b) sequencing—converting the taxa into a linear sequence of program code. Three structured tools—structured English, decision tables, and decision trees—were investigated in a laboratory experiment to determine how they facilitated these two processes. When taxonomizing had to be undertaken, structured English outperformed decision tables, and decision trees outperformed structured English. When sequencing had to be undertaken, decision trees and structured English outperformed decision tables, but decision trees and structured English evoked the same level of performance.

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