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Literate Coding

By George V. Neville-Neil

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 53 No. 12, Pages 37-38

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While it is true that "programmers aren't English majors," there are many days that I wish they were, or that they knew one and offered to help with their science or math homework in return for some help making themselves better understood.

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Andrew Fry

At the risk of violent agreement - source code has two main purposes. One purpose is execution leading to some actions. The other purpose is communicating (to humans) what the system does and perhaps how it is done (the system usually encompassing much more than computers).

For any program that is used over a significant period, communications is more important than the execution actions - the actions (which are probably wrong) will be updated and changed over time - but the communications aspect is necessary to update the program.

Please continue beating the heads of recalcitrant "programmers".

R Oldehoeft

Another vote for KV on literate coding. I had a long academic CS career, and can offer a few anecdotes:

* When I met with high-schoolers bused in to campus, I would tell them that they should study all the math, science, and ENGLISH that their school offers--not a popular message.

* I would tell my own undergraduate students that the most important programming language was English! If they are good technically, they will be required to communicate with other humans on a literate level--another unpopular message.

* I required a term paper in my programming class (after surveying them about languages they knew) about a language that they did not know, giving a wide list to choose from and providing a template about what they should report. One graduating senior, in turning his in at class, sighed: "That's the last writing I will ever have to do!" I just smiled, knowing that, from the second bullet above, he was probably right.

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