Two of the most important and most difficult questions one can ask about a new software development technique are whether the technique is useful and whether the technique is usable. Various flavours of empirical study are available to evaluate these questions, including surveys, case studies, and experiments. These different approaches have been used extensively in a number of domains, including management science and human-computer interaction. A growing number of software engineering researchers are using experimental methods to statistically validate hypotheses about relatively mature software development aids. Less guidance is available for a developer of a new and evolving software development technique who is attempting to determine, within some cost bounds, if the technique shows some usefulness. We faced this challenge when assessing a new programming technique called aspect-oriented programming. To assess the technique, we chose to apply both a case study approach and a series of four experiments because we wanted to understand and characterize the kinds of information that each approach might provide when studying a technique that is in its infancy. Our experiences suggest some avenues for further developing empirical methods aimed at evaluating software engineering questions. For instance, guidelines on how different observational techniques can be used as multiple sources of data would be helpful when planning and conducting a case study. For the experimental situation, more guidance is needed on how to balance the precision of measurement with the realism necessary to investigate programming issues. In this paper, we describe and critique the evaluation methods we employed, and discuss the lessons we have learned. These lessons are applicable to researchers attempting to assess other new programming techniques that are in an early stage of development.
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