The role of comprehension in requirements and implications for use case descriptions

John Mathenge Kanyaru, Keith Phalp, Jonathan Vincent, Sheridan Jeary, Anita Adlem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Within requirements engineering, it is generally accepted that in writing specifications (or indeed any requirements phase document), one attempts to produce an artefact which will be simple to comprehend for the user. That is, whether the document is intended for customers to validate requirements, or engineers to understand what the design must deliver, comprehension is an important goal for the author. Indeed, advice on producing `readable' or `understandable' documents is often included in courses on requirements engineering. However, few researchers, particularly within the software engineering domain, have attempted either to define or to understand the nature of comprehension and its implications for guidance on the production of quality requirements. Therefore, this paper examines thoroughly the nature of textual comprehension, drawing heavily from research in discourse process, and suggests some implications for requirements (and other) software documentation. In essence, we find that the guidance on writing requirements, often prevalent within software engineering, may be based upon assumptions that are an oversimplification of the nature of comprehension. Hence, the paper examines guidelines which have been proposed, in this case for use case descriptions, and the extent to which they agree with discourse process theory, before suggesting refinements to the guidelines which attempt to utilise lessons learned from our richer understanding of the underlying discourse process theory. For example, we suggest subtly different sets of writing guidelines for the different tasks of requirements, specification and design.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-486
Number of pages25
JournalSoftware Quality Control
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


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