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Building Knowledge through Families of Experiments
July/August 1999 (vol. 25 no. 4)
pp. 456-473

Abstract—Experimentation in software engineering is necessary but difficult. One reason is that there are a large number of context variables and, so, creating a cohesive understanding of experimental results requires a mechanism for motivating studies and integrating results. It requires a community of researchers that can replicate studies, vary context variables, and build models that represent the common observations about the discipline. This paper discusses the experience of the authors, based upon a collection of experiments, in terms of a framework for organizing sets of related studies. With such a framework, experiments can be viewed as part of common families of studies, rather than being isolated events. Common families of studies can contribute to important and relevant hypotheses that may not be suggested by individual experiments. A framework also facilitates building knowledge in an incremental manner through the replication of experiments within families of studies. To support the framework, this paper discusses the experiences of the authors in carrying out empirical studies, with specific emphasis on persistent problems encountered in experimental design, threats to validity, criteria for evaluation, and execution of experiments in the domain of software engineering.

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Index Terms:
Empirical software engineering, experimental design, software process, software measurement, software reading techniques.
Citation:
Victor R. Basili, Forrest Shull, Filippo Lanubile, "Building Knowledge through Families of Experiments," IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 456-473, July-Aug. 1999, doi:10.1109/32.799939
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