Spreadsheets are widely used in industry. Spreadsheets also suffer from typical software engineering issues. Previous research shows that they contain code smells, lack documentation and tests, and have a long live span during which they are transferred multiple times among users. These transfers highlight the importance of spreadsheet comprehension. Therefore, in this paper, we analyze the effect of the organization of formulas on spreadsheet comprehension. To that end, we conduct a controlled experiment with 107 spreadsheet users, divided into two groups. One group receives a model where the formulas are organized such that all related components are grouped closely together, while the other group receives a model where the components are spread far and wide across the spreadsheet. All subjects perform the same set of comprehension tasks on their spreadsheet. The results indicate that the way formulas are located relative to each other in a spreadsheet, influences the performance of the subjects in their ability to comprehend and adapt the spreadsheet. Especially for the comprehension tasks, the subjects perform better on the model where the formulas were grouped closely together. For the adaptation tasks, we found that the length of the calculation chain influences the performance of the subjects more than the location of the formulas itself.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2017 IEEE 25th International Conference on Program Comprehension (ICPC)
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings
EditorsR. Bilof
Place of PublicationPiscataway, NJ
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5386-0535-6
ISBN (Print)978-1-5386-0536-3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2017
EventICPC 2017: 25th IEEE International Conference on Program Comprehension - Buenos Aires, Argentina
Duration: 22 May 201723 May 2017
Conference number: 25


ConferenceICPC 2017
CityBuenos Aires
OtherCo-located with the 39th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2017)
Internet address

    Research areas

  • comprehension, controlled experiment, delocalized plans, end user programming, Feature Envy, locality, maintenance, spreadsheets

ID: 45795549