Published in volume 27, issue 8, December 2017

This issue contains two papers about test automation. Impediments for Software Test Automation: A Systematic Literature Review, by Wiklund, Eldh, Sundmark, and Lundqvist, provides answers for what makes it difficult to apply test automation through a well thought out tour of relevant literature. (Recommended by Bogden Korel.) GUICop: Approach and Toolset for Specification-based GUI Testing, by Hammoud, Zaraket, and Masri, presents a solution to the test oracle problem for GUIs. Small changes in the appearance of a GUi can fool automated tests into thinking the new screen is incorrect. This work addresses the problem by using a user-defined GUI specification. (Recommended by Jane Hayes.)


Color Figures Considered Harmful

I want to give a very short and direct suggestion to help my less experienced colleagues.

In journal and conference submissions, do not depend on color to understand your figures.

  1. Before submitting, print and read your paper in black-and-white.
  2. If your eyes are younger than 30, find a 50-year-old colleague and ask if she or he can read those tiny words in your figures.

I just finished reviewing 15 conference submissions, and nine have figures that are either difficult or impossible to read. Five use color to differentiate elements in the graph. Six use color that prints as a very pale gray in B&W, and therefore cannot be read. Five shrunk a figure to fit into a two-column format, making the words in the figure unreadable. Multiple reviewers are calling the authors out for these mistakes, and at least three papers will be rejected because we cannot evaluate the work.

Unreadable figures used to be a rare “rookie mistake” that indicated the advisor or senior co-author did not read the paper. But this mistake is becoming more common, even by relatively senior people who should know better.

First principle: You might work in a wealthy lab that has many color printers, but reviewers and readers may not. We will not use expensive color ink to review papers.

Second principle: Some people will read your paper online, and the color will look just fine. But diligent reviewers and interested readers will print your paper so they can give a more thorough, deeper, thoughtful read. Reviewers who try to do their job online sacrifice quality for speed. Tech writers have demonstrated that we understand material better when we read on paper. And that is not related to age or experience reading online. Assume your reviewers will print on a black-and-white printer, and will not bother to go back to the computer to check your figures.

I also suggest learning to use two-column figures. It’s a small option in latex figures and tables, and a straightforward clicking and dragging operation in Word.

A few weeks ago I spotted a figure in the paper I was working on that I could not read. So I asked my colleague, who said “it doesn’t matter, readers don’t need to read the figure anyway.” My answer should be obvious in retrospect: “let’s take it out.” The reason only three papers the papers mentioned above will be rejected because of poor figures is because most of the unreadable figures don’t matter. They don’t need to be in the paper.

This issue is more important for conference papers then for journal papers, because journals can ask for major revisions. And yes it is becoming more common to ask for figures and table to be made legible in revision. If we can’t read the figures, we can’t fully evaluate the research.

I love good research. Good ideas excite me and solutions that work satisfy me. I really hate to see good research rejected because of bad presentation. Sadly, it happens all the time.

Jeff Offutt
George Mason University
7 November 2017