Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Allen, Edward B.

Committee Member

Bradshaw, Gary L.

Committee Member

Niu, Nan

Committee Member

Dampier, David A.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Computer Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


James Worth Bagley College of Engineering


Department of Computer Science and Engineering


In the software engineering process some tasks of software engineers are to design software documents, analyze the documents, and comprehend component relationships within software diagrams. Those diagrams represent the software architecture which models the structure, behavior, relationships, and constraints among system components while ignoring implementation detail. In the software lifecycle, the system is implemented from the software architecture and errors and mistakes caused from a lack of comprehension or incorrect comprehension could cause engineers to incorrectly design the system. These errors can be defined as lapses, slips, or lack of understanding and fall into three categories: skill, rule, and knowledge errors. The Gestalt principles of organization, from the cognitive science domain, deal with how humans perceive the world around them. This dissertation seeks to identify whether the Gestalt principles of continuity, similarity of size, proximity, and similarity of name affect comprehension of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) class diagrams. Diagram comprehension is measured by response time and subject accuracy on questions and the mental workload perceived by subjects while answering questions related to the diagrams. The research hypotheses are diagrams that utilize the Gestalt principles of continuity, similarity of size, proximity, and similarity of name will have faster response times, higher accuracy, and lower mental workload scores than diagrams that do not use the Gestalt principles. The results of the research indicate that the Gestalt principle of proximity helped ease diagram comprehension. Through the use of this design principle, the Gestalt principle of continuity is applied because line crossings, line bends, and line length are minimized. Subjects were prone to make more errors on knowledge based questions that dealt with system understanding and UML semantics than skill and rule questions that dealt with system connections and UML syntax. These results provide software designers heuristics that can lead to better diagram design and identifies software engineering tasks that can lead to more errors.



model-driven engineering