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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“@alex, this fixes #9” : analysis of referencing patterns in Pull Request discussions Chopra, Ashish


Pull Requests (PRs) are a frequently used method for proposing changes to source code repositories. When discussing proposed changes in a PR discussion, stakeholders often reference a wide variety of information objects for establishing shared awareness and common ground. Previous work has not considered how the referential behavior impacts collaborative software development via PRs. This knowledge gap is the major barrier in evaluating the current support for referencing in PRs and improving them. We conducted an explorative analysis of ~7K references, collected from 450 public PRs on GitHub, and constructed taxonomies of referent types and expressions. Using our annotated dataset, we identified several patterns in the use of references. We found that despite a prevalent use of references in PR discussions, GitHub's interface lacks the support for referencing the majority of information types. We provide qualitative descriptions of how different contextual factors shape the use of references in discussions. We also discovered distinct referencing patterns in merged and closed PRs which signifies a potential ground for future research to establish a relationship between reference use and PR outcomes. These findings suggest that what is and is not referenced within a PR discussion has an important impact on the software development process, and warrants continued platform support and research. We conclude with design implications to support more effective referencing in PR discussion interfaces.

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