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- How anecdotal evidence can make or break your insights
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The question is whose anecdotes carry more weight. At the Agile conference in Washington DC, I scheduled my activities so that I could attend some of the talks on the research track. I felt there was too little cross-pollination between practitioners and researchers, and I was curious to know what was happening in research. Michael Maximilian of IBM. I knew that Dr Williams had run one of the very few credible studies of pair programming , back in at the University of Utah, so I had high hopes that this study would provide some useful insights about TDD.
The IBMers were professional researchers with good knowledge of the field, and not graduate students who were just learning how to do studies. Max was the presenter. The researchers noted a correlation between the use of TDD and the control of cyclomatic complexity in the resulting code.
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This observation is hardly news to anyone who writes software for a living. It was a breakthrough! I pointed out that this was already well known to practitioners; it was one of the reasons we choose TDD as a preferred software development practice. It is a result of incremental refactoring, which is done as part of the basic red-green-refactor cycle. Cyclomatic complexity is just one sort of design debt that we manage through the TDD cycle. They said, well, no one has published the observation before. They excitedly suggested that I write a paper about it.
I felt genuinely puzzled. The publication of a paper does not cause reality to exist. Reality exists first, and then researchers eventually notice it and write it down. If they did, then researchers would never have anything to observe. The discussion drove home the fact a wide gulf exists between software development practitioners and the research community. The study was based on observations of a team of 16 experienced developers at an Italian company over a period of three months.
As a way to avoid subjective reporting of when pair programming was taking place, the researchers used a software tool that recorded the times and the focus window at one-second intervals, if someone was actively using the workstation. They discarded the data from 2 of the developers, as they were newcomers who joined the team after the period of study had begun.
There are several problems with this study. Firstly, the researchers only observed one team and only for a limited time. Secondly, the data collection tool could not really tell whether appropriate pair programming practices were in use.
Only a qualified human observer would be able to tell whether a pair was engaged in real collaborative work, or if they just happened to be sitting near one another. This raises questions about whether the observations can tell us anything about the relative value of paired work versus solo work. Thirdly, the researchers were not experienced, professional software developers past or present , able to relate on a deep level to the activities they were studying. They were young graduate students, learning how to conduct studies, how to apply statistical analysis techniques to their observations, how to format and submit a research paper for publication, and how to deliver a talk in front of an audience.
Those are all good things to do, of course. One of the criticisms people express about anecdotal information is that any given report reflects just one set of observations interpreted from just one perspective. A formal study, they argue, compiles information obtained from many sources, many observations, many situations. It normalizes the results, removes statistical outliers, and determines general conclusions that may be drawn based on objective criteria.
How anecdotal evidence can make or break your insights
The pair programming study mentioned above reflects just one set of observations. It is based on observations of a single team. It draws conclusions from just one perspective. It represents the anecdotal report of its three authors. From the cadence of a paragraph to the structure of a book, I learned, stylish academic writers sweat the details.
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They think about elegance :. The ability to write elegantly in the style appropriate for a specific journal is essential in science. We spend ages crafting even very short articles before we send them off to journals like Science or Nature. Margaret Breen, English, University of Connecticut. Nothing you write is ever a first draft.
Trudy Rudge, Nursing, University of Sydney. In science, sentences should be logical and unambiguous.
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- When should anecdotal evidence be used in a research paper.
There you might want two possible meanings on purpose. You want a very clear meaning. Robert Miles, English, University of Victoria. In history, your audience often includes ordinary people who have a curiosity or passion for the past, which marks it out from academic disciplines where the more polysyllabic words and the more theoreticians you invoke in one sentence, the more illustrious you are, even if no one has any idea what the words mean.
Inter Research » ESEP » v18 » p
I learned quite a lot from one of my coauthors. What does the this refer to? I want to see the agency. I have learned to work harder at writing stories. Now, I start more broadly, stepping back from the forest to see the trees, so to speak, to provide context and set up impact. Kurt Albertine, Pediatrics, University of Utah.
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Donald A. Barr, Human Biology, Stanford University. They even think about visual issues such as typography , pagination , and layout :. Patricia Culligan, Engineering, Columbia University. Successful writers also attend closely to the technologies of writing: that is, to the physical and electronic tools they use in their shaping and crafting of language. These days, most academics do the bulk of their writing and editing on a computer:. To me, writing is something you do at a keyboard.
That gives you negative feedback, and it becomes depressing. On a screen, you can get the latest version and it looks tidy. Some supplement standard word-processing programs with specialized desktop software such as Freemind or Scrivener for mind mapping and nonlinear drafting, respectively and online file storage and sharing services such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
For many, however—especially those who came to word processing relatively late in their academic careers—there is still nothing quite like the feeling of pen on paper:. After I type it up on the computer, I make my changes on a printout of the original draft, and then when it gets too clogged up, I print off another triple-spaced copy and go from there. Albert, Opthalmology, University of Wisconsin.
In typing and printing the intimate link between the manual gesture and the inscriptive trace is broken. The author conveys feeling by his choice of words, not by the expressiveness of his lines. Even writers who work mainly on computers affirm the cognitive and artisanal value of writing by hand:. I sometimes like to write longhand if I am thinking about something difficult. I curl up on the bed or couch and then transfer it to the computer later.
I find it useful because it slows you down.