Difference between revisions of "ProgramIndention"

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Miara, J. R., J. A. Musselman, J. A. Navarro, and B. Shneiderman. Program
Indentation and Comprehensibility. Comm. ACM 26, 11 (Nov. 1983), 861-867.
Abstract: The consensus in the programming community is that indentation
aids program comprehension, although many studies do not back this up. We
tested program comprehension on a Pascal program. Two styles of indentation
were used-blocked and nonblocked- in addition to four possible levels of
indentation (0, 2, 4, 6 spaces). Both experienced and novice subjects were
used. Although blocking style made no difference, the level of indentation
had a significant effect on program comprehension. (2-4 spaces had the
highest mean score for program comprehension.) We recommend that a moderate
level of indentation be used to increase program comprehension and user
This paper addresses the impact of indentation and blocking on program
comprehension. By blocked indentation, the authors mean that statements
immediately within a begin ... end pair share a common left margin with
those delimiting keywords. In nonblocked style, the delimited statements are
indented further. The authors review previous studies of indentation, noting
that their support for the hypothesis that program indentation aids program
readability and comprehension is, at best, ambiguous. They explain possible
reasons for the discrepancy between their results and those reported by
others. The results of the experiments reported here favor the view that
indentation aids comprehension, but they also show that excessive
indentation (6 or more spaces) does not increase the effect. Interestingly
enough, the novices in the study reacted very favorably to indented code and
rejected the nonindented program. Experts, on the other hand, showed no such
prejudice. This is a good paper on the effect of formatting practices. The
experiment was done carefully, which makes it especially relevant to those
interested in empirical studies. The practical wisdom to take away from the
paper is simple:
indent code three spaces to show its structure. This paper is recommended
for both instructors and students.

Latest revision as of 22:37, 10 January 2010

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