Is confusion a factor when reviewing a code?

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Reviewing the code is an art. After working with the topic for a few years, we’ve realized that this is like reading a chat – one person responds to a piece of message sent by another person. The message often being the code and the response being the review comment. What we’ve discovered is that the context of the review is important as well as the possibility to ask questions. We even discuss having a taxonomy of these review comments to ease understanding of “where” in the review process one is at the moment.

This article caught my attention because it is about understading when a reviewer is actually confused when reading the code and making the comment. It’s a very nice piece of work as it combines code review comments analysis and surveys.

The results of the survey are interesting as they point out that the authors are confused much less than the reviewers – which is often caused by the fact that the comment is a response, while the code is the message. Quoting the paper: RQ1 Summary – Reasons for confusion: We found a total of 30 reasons for confusion. The most prevalent are missing rationale, discussion of the solution: non-functional, and lack of familiarity with existing code. We observe that tools (code review, issue tracker, and version control) and communication issues, such as disagreement or ambiguity in communicative intentions, may also cause confusion during code reviews.

Finally, I like the fact that the authors do a full systematic review on the topic and triangulate the results. This work will become a number one reading for my students in the programming course, which will teach them how important good code is!

From the abstract:

Results: From the first study, we build a framework with 30 reasons for confusion, 14 impacts, and 13 coping strategies. The results of the systematic mapping study shows 38 articles addressing the most frequent reasons for confusion. From those articles, we found 19 different solutions for confusion proposed in the literature, and nine impacts were established related to the most frequent reasons for confusion.