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New Post 7/5/2013 8:52 AM
User is offline Andy
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English inadequate for specifying search requirements? 
Way too often I find myself tempted to use pseudo code (or actual code) to specify requirements when English semantics are just too poorly defined to make for requirements that are both precise and concise. I would like to solicit some ideas for one such scenario which I run into routinely. I frequently have to describe search rules where a record is considered a search result if either field "A" or field "B" or both match the given search values. If both fields have values in the search criteria, we say that both must match. However, that is usually not quite true because this simple wording does not account for the special treatment of when "A" or "B" is not specified either in the criteria or in the database record. What we really want is results where a) Both "A" and "B" have values in both criteria and database record and both "A" and "B" criteria match the corresponding field values in the database record, OR b) Either "A" or "B" (but not both) have a value in the criteria and it matches the corresponding "A" or "B" in the database record. The other field may have a value or not. c) Both 'A" and "B" have values in the criteria but only one of the fields matches in the database record. The other field does not have a value. Do you have any ideas how to express this whole mess in a precise and concise rule? A different but similar (and more specific) example which might be familiar to some of you: We match on person names a lot. We split the name into last, first, middle and suffix. The last and first name are guaranteed to have a value both in the criteria and in the database. Middle and suffix are optional. When specifying how to match on names we have to write a complex dissertation: A person record is a match if all of the following conditions are met a) the last name matches, b) the first name matches c) the middle name is given in the criteria and has a value in the person record and matches, d) the suffix is given in the criteria and has a value in the person record and matches. Actually that's not half bad. I might use that next time. Well, you can see why, inevitably, developers and testers will stop by with a "Say what?!" on their lips. I'm looking forward to reading your brilliant ideas! Thanks! Andy
New Post 8/7/2013 1:20 PM
User is offline Kay Fudala
2 posts
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Re: English inadequate for specifying search requirements? 


Frankly, my eyes started glazing over after I read the first few sentences. I can understand how the developer may be stumped. When it is difficult to describe the requirement in its entirety you can certainly use pseduo code. However, here is a suggestion to help you break down the requirement; it has worked well for me time and again.

Take a real world example of your search situation. Really this A and B example is confusing, stick with your first name, last name example. Start putting together the process steps of how the application would implement the search algorithm like so:

System shall compare the value input by the user in field 1 with the value input in field 2 and if they match....

The above could be your high level use case which could be broken down further into what happens if field 1 exhibits xyz criteria...

What are the end results of your search? Keep going with the above exercise until all pathways to achieve those results are defined. I find that visual representation of the scenario greatly helps in resolving the requirements. Once you define a use case, run it by your developer to check whether he/she understands it.

Good luck!


New Post 8/7/2013 7:33 PM
User is offline Kimbo
454 posts
5th Level Poster

Re: English inadequate for specifying search requirements? 

Hi Andy,

I worked on a data analytics project last year dealing with this stuff.

Try a user story or use case with business rules attached. User story is something like:

As a researcher (or whatever your actor is) I want to search on XXXX (whatever A and B are in business terms) so that I can XXX (business reason for searching on them)

Then in the acceptance criteria put in the scenarios you talk about. Remember to put positives and negatives. One negative will be to handle the case of not searching on that field when nothing is entered.

Using something structured like a user story or use case will take away the ambiguity you see in writing sentences.


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