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Investigating Effects of Common Spreadsheet Design Practices on Correctness and Maintainability



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Spreadsheets are software programs which are typically created by end-users and often used for business-critical tasks. Many studies indicate that errors in spreadsheets are very common. Thus, a number of vendors offer auditing tools which promise to detect errors by checking spreadsheets against so-called Best Practices such as "Don't put constants in fomulae". Unfortunately, it is largely unknown which Best Practices have which actual effects on which spreadsheet quality aspects in which settings. We have conducted a controlled experiment with 42 subjects to investigate the question whether observance of three commonly suggested Best Practices is correlated with desired positive effects regarding correctness and maintainability: "Do not put constants in formulae", "keep formula complexity low" and "refer to the left and above". The experiment was carried out in two phases which covered the creation of new and the modification of existing spreadsheets. It was evaluated using a novel construction kit for spreadsheet auditing tools called Spreadsheet Inspection Framework. The experiment produced a small sample of directly comparable spreadsheets which all try to solve the same task. Our analysis of the obtained spreadsheets indicates that the correctness of "bottom-line" results is not affected by the observance of the three Best Practices. However, initially correct spreadsheets with high observance of these Best Practices tend to be the ones whose later modifications yield the most correct results.

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29 November 2012

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16 Pages, 5 Colour Figures; Proc. European Spreadsheet Risks Int. Grp. (EuSpRIG) 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9569258-6-2
Grenville Croll


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