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Flowcharts versus program design languages: an experimental comparison

By H. Rudy Ramsey, Michael E. Atwood, James R. Van Doren

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 26 No. 6, Pages 445-449

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An experiment was performed to assess the relative merits of program design languages (PDLs) and flowcharts as techniques for the development and documentation of detailed designs for computer programs. The use of a PDL by a software designer, for the development and description of a detailed program design, produced better results than did the use of flowcharts. Specifically, the designs appeared to be of significantly better quality, involving more algorithmic or procedural detail, than those produced using flowcharts. In addition, flowchart designs exhibited considerably more abbreviation and other space-saving practices than did PDL designs, with a possible adverse effect on their readability. When equivalent, highly readable designs were presented to subjects in both PDL and flowchart form, no pattern of short-term or long-term differences in comprehension of the design was observed. No significant differences were detected in the quality or other properties of programs written as implementations of the designs. Subjective ratings indicated a mild preference for PDLs. Overall, the results suggest that software design performance and designer-programmer communication might be significantly improved by the adoption of informal PDLs rather than flowcharts as a standard documentation method for detailed computer program designs.

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