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https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/194414/what-psychological-factors-account-for-readability was asked after a related question was closed.

gnat posted a comment that detailed:

resource requests are not quite welcome at Programmers. As far as I understand, one would rather present an underlying problem instead - a problem that was intended to be solved with particular resource requested

I've had a look at the faq for what's on-topic, but this doesn't seem to match any of the criteria.

This question is receiving upvotes, so wondered whether it's been edited to a state where it's on-topic?
I've given it a few comments, but not answered it to avoid encouraging it if it is off-topic.

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    Just to clarify, gnat's comment is on the earlier question (for a minute there you had me checking and double checking for deleted comments and going a bit crazy that I couldn't find it ;) – yannis Apr 9 '13 at 12:38
  • to me, programming-specific resource requests are as on topic as it gets (have to admit I am a bit annoyed seeing many questions closed as off-topic improperly). This doesn't make such requests immune for closure though. There are other close reasons besides OT - not constructive, not a real question, too localized, duplicate – gnat Apr 9 '13 at 12:52
  • Some questions are just so adamant about providing a resource that IMHO all they're doing is asking someone to do their research/homework for them. – JeffO Apr 14 '13 at 17:40
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Following a discussion with the mods at CogSci, we've migrated the question. They feel that it's appropriate for them. Given that the asker is pretty clear about wanting the psychological underpinnings of code readability, I agree with that assessment. Although psychology and other cognitive sciences and social sciences touch software development, we can't provide expert answers here in those areas. If the question was approached from a software engineering, software quality, or software metrics perspective (the kinds of things that would be published by the IEEE, ACM, or BCS), it would have stayed here.


I'd say that it is mostly on-topic and isn't a reference request. In this particular case, a good answer should cite reputable studies over experiences. However, I would suspect that it would be a synthesis of academic research and their findings rather than a collection of links.

Code readability falls under "software engineering", which is on-topic here, and determining methods for determining how readable code is seems to be a valid research topic. The question is if we have people who can adequately answer the question, especially from a psychological background. I can answer it from a software metrics perspective - there is some academic research that has tried to find things similar to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level or Gunning-Fog Index for software. There's also work to examine the layout of code (indentation, line-length, etc.) and determine automated methods of computing a readability metric that corresponds to human surveys of the same code.

However, I'm concerned about the desire for "psychological factors". We aren't psychologists here. I'm comfortable talking about the research in software quality and metrics, but not the psychological underpinnings of why these are what they are. That may be better suited to CogSci.

  • The explicitness of the clause "I am not looking for educated opinions or examples as in here or here, but for neural correlates or a perspective from cognitive sciences." seems to define the question out of programmers.SE scope, should it be migrated to CogSci? – StuperUser Apr 9 '13 at 12:58
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    @StuperUser I'm going to see if I can get someone more familiar with CogSci to weigh in, and hopefully the asker as well. I think it's perfectly OK to ask that answers be rooted in rigorous, empirical work over experiences. There is a difference between "give me papers on topic X" and "What factors impact code readability? Please provide scientifically studied factors, rather than your personal, untested experiences." – Thomas Owens Apr 9 '13 at 13:04

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