The Neglected Battle Fields of Syntax Errors

Kummerfeld, S.K. and Kay, J.

    Syntax error correction is an essential part of the debugging process. Yet there has been little research investigating how programmers approach syntax error correction and how to help beginner programmers learn to fix errors efficiently. This paper describes development and evaluation of a tool to support students learning how to correct syntax errors. We collected both quantitative and qualitative data for a small but varied group of students as they corrected syntax errors. This showed that even the more experienced students took significant time to correct some syntax errors. It also indicated that general and language specific programming experience provides both strategic skill in correcting errors and greater depth of understanding of the error messages themselves. At the same time, we observed that beginners can be almost as efficient as more expert users when they have access to our tool for explanations of the less intuitive compile error messages.
Cite as: Kummerfeld, S.K. and Kay, J. (2003). The Neglected Battle Fields of Syntax Errors. In Proc. Fifth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2003), Adelaide, Australia. CRPIT, 20. Greening, T. and Lister, R., Eds. ACS. 105-111.
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