I recently had an opportunity to work on an interesting paper about how end users apply sensemaking when debugging. In this paper, we analyzed how end users working on real-world spreadsheets identified and fixed errors using a model known as sensemaking.
Sensemaking is a process that people use to learn information from artifacts and to in turn make hypotheses based on the information that they acquired. In sensemaking, people forage for information through interacting with the artifacts (in this case, data and formulas) and then form hypotheses and test them.
One of the main results of this paper is that we come up with a sensemaking model for end-user debuggers. One of the extensions that we proposed is three loops: the “Bug Fixing” sensemaking loop, which is similar to Pirolli and Card’s sensemaking loop, the “Environment” sensemaking loop, and the “Domain” sensemaking loop. Participants usually left the bug fixing loop to head to the environment loop – essentially, they were struggling with Excel, or using some information from Excel to try to move forward with their task.
We also examined in detail how participants moved between different steps while sensemaking. The participants who did well at the task used systematic strategies, and followed up their initial foraging with testing their initial hypotheses. Even though they used two different strategies (selective = depth-first investigation vs. comprehensive = breadth-first investigation), they were both able to do well because they were systematic in their debugging work.
ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 2012