Globalization—Logical Flow, Motivation, and Assumptions

Published in volume 24, issue 4, June 2014

This issue presents three fascinating papers on ensuring the reliability and correct behavior of software. The first, Analysis and testing of black-box component-based systems by inferring partial models, by Shahbaz and Groz, tackles the problem of integration testing of component-based software. When components have no specifications, models, or source, testers can only infer proper behavior by trial and error. This paper uses a model learning approach to derive finite state machines that describe observed behavior of the software component. (Recommended by Rob Hierons.) The second, Sound and mechanised compositional verification of input-output conformance, by Sampaio, Noguira, Mota, and Isobe, uses process algebra to verify conformance of software with the expected behavior. This test theory was applied to test mobile applications. (Recommended by Alexander Pretschner.) The third, Towards the prioritization of system test cases, by Srikanth, Banerjee, Williams, and Osborne, focuses on the problem of test case prioritization. The approach assumes requirements-based tests, assigns a prioritization value to each requirement, and then prioritizes tests that were designed for requirements with a higher priority. (Recommended by Jeff Offutt.)


I wrote about The Globalization of Software Engineering in a previous editorial [1], followed up with a discussion of language skills to support globalization [2], uses of references and citations [3], standards for research quality [4], and cheating and plagiarism [5]. Another difficult difference that is affected by globalization is presenting research with logical flow, clear motivation, precision, and without cultural-based assumptions.

While it is probably obvious that successful research publications must be based on sound research, hard work, and original ideas, it may be less obvious that presentation is just as important. The ability to clearly present research results can be developed through education, practice, and helpful feedback. This editorial attempts to point out a few issues that are influenced by culture, with the hope of helping authors, teachers, and reviewers to understand and improve.

The most obvious cultural aspects of presentation, of course, is language—improving language skills improve the ability to present research results clearly. But telling a coherent story is even more important. Educational systems emphasize different topics, and some spend a lot more time teaching writing skills than others. Our cultural context also influences our writing. We sometimes make assumptions that are standard in our own culture, but may be different in other s. This editorial explores some of these issues from a global perspective.

Perhaps the most important aspect of presenting research is to have a logical flow of ideas. Each section must logically flow to the next, each paragraph must logically flow to the next, and each sentence must logically flow from the previous. If not, readers will be confused and not understand the research. Logical flow reflects a structured way of thinking that is influenced by culture, mother language, and scientific training.

Outlining allows me to see the logical flow at an abstract level, without getting distracted by the details of grammar and sentence structure. I outline sections, paragraphs in each section, and the sentences in each paragraph. I look for “data flow” anomalies in the outline. Finally, when a paragraph or section does not look right but I'm not sure why, I “reverse engineer” the text into an outline, refactor the outline to create a better logical flow, and apply the new outline to the text.

Another issue that is heavily influenced by culture is motivation. Motivation essentially answers “why”—why the problem is relevant, why the solution technique was chosen, and why the specific validation technique used was chosen. Traditionally egalitarian cultures have a strong built-in mechanism to develop the skills to present motivation. That is how people get their ideas accepted and used. Authoritarian cultures, on the other hand, can afford to de-emphasize motivation and expect people to do what they are told because an authority says so.

Although we could spend hours and pages complaining about English, English has at least one strong advantage. Its rich vocabulary allows us to be wonderfully specific and precise in your writing. Instead of, for example, writing “We had a high quality test suite,” we can write “Our test suite had 95% branch coverage.” This is more specific as well as quicker to read and understand. This issue of specificity has an unusual cultural aspect, because in some cultures it is rude to be extremely precise. Without judging any particular culture, or implying that vagueness is bad in general, it is important that scientific papers be as specific as possible.

The last topic to mention is about assumptions. We all make certain assumptions about our work and communications. Many of these assumptions are unconscious, often based on a cultural context that we are only peripherally aware of. For example, I might say “She hit a home run with that result!”, implicitly assuming that the listener understands the metaphor. This is clearly a culturally contextual assumption, because baseball is only played in a few countries.

Assumptions that are based in a specific cultural context can be very confusing in research presentations. Our audience is almost always international and our assumptions are often unconscious. But it's also quite difficult to recognize our own assumptions. Asking for feedback from people from other cultures will help. Exposing ourselves to different cultures through travel or befriending visitors can help avoid such assumptions. Perhaps strongest of all is to collaborate with someone from another culture. It always helps to have someone recognize our unconscious mistakes, while making mistakes that we can recognize.

Of course, awareness of these issues will not guarantee our papers are accepted, read, or understood. However, these are some of the hardest issues to fix in our writing.

[1] Jeff Offutt. Effects of Globalization of Software Engineering (Editorial), Wiley's journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 23(3), May 2013. http://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/stvr/23-3-May2013.html.

[2] Jeff Offutt. Globalization—Language and Dialects (Editorial), Wiley's journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 23(4), June 2013. http://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/stvr/23-4-June2013.html.

[3] Jeff Offutt. Globalization—References and Citations (Editorial), Wiley's journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 24(1), January 2014. http://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/stvr/24-1-Jan2014.html.

[4] Jeff Offutt. Globalization—Standards for Research Quality (Editorial), Wiley's journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 24(2), March 2014. http://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/stvr/24-2-Mar2014.html.

[5] Jeff Offutt. Globalization—Ethics and Plagiarism (Editorial), Wiley's journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 24(3), May 2014. http://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/stvr/24-3-May2014.html.

Jeff Offutt
4 April 2014