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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Empirical studies in information modeling: interpretation of the object relationship Siau, Keng Leng


Information modeling is the cornerstone of information systems analysis and design. Information models not only provide the abstractions required to facilitate communication between designers and end users, they also provide a formal basis for tools and techniques used in developing and using information systems. This dissertation reports on four empirical studies in information modeling. The four studies focus on an important, yet controversial, construct in information modeling — the relationship construct. The theoretical foundation for the four experimental studies comprises theories and findings from the information systems, cognitive psychology, computer science, philosophy, and communication literature. Because of the paucity of empirical research in the area, a two-stage research design, consisting of the exploratory and formalized phases, is employed in this dissertation. Two studies were conducted in the exploratory phase. The first exploratory study investigated the effect of domain familiarity on selection of mandatory or optional connectivity for the relationship construct by modeling experts. The findings indicate that modeling experts tend to choose optional over mandatory relationships, even for domains that are totally unfamiliar to them. The second exploratory study analyzed the effect of conflicting textual information and structural constraints on selection of mandatory or optional connectivity by modeling experts. The results show that modeling experts tend to focus on the information depicted by the structural constraints and ignore the textual information. This exploratory phase allowed us to explore and develop empirical research methods and instruments for studying the relationship construct in information modeling. In the second phase, two formalized studies were conducted. The first formalized study investigated the differences between modeling experts and novices in their interpretation of information models. The results show significant differences in the way modeling experts and novices interpret information models. Modeling experts focus mainly on the structural constraints and de-emphasize the textual information. Modeling novices, on the other hand, pay more attention to the textual information than modeling experts. The second formalized study examined the effect of different representations of relationship on the interpretation of information models by modeling novices. The findings indicate that the explicitness of relationship construct and the use of verb versus noun description for relationship have a profound impact on the accuracy of interpretation. The best combination is one that uses an explicit relationship construct and verb for relationship description. The worst combination is one where the relationship construct is represented implicitly and described using noun.

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