Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 455–492 | Cite as

An experimental comparison of ER and UML class diagrams for data modelling

  • Andrea De Lucia
  • Carmine Gravino
  • Rocco Oliveto
  • Genoveffa Tortora


We present the results of three sets of controlled experiments aimed at analysing whether UML class diagrams are more comprehensible than ER diagrams during data models maintenance. In particular, we considered the support given by the two notations in the comprehension and interpretation of data models, comprehension of the change to perform to meet a change request, and detection of defects contained in a data model. The experiments involved university students with different levels of ability and experience. The results demonstrate that using UML class diagrams subjects achieved better comprehension levels. With regard to the support given by the two notations during maintenance activities the results demonstrate that the two notations give the same support, while in general UML class diagrams provide a better support with respect to ER diagrams during verification activities.


Controlled experiments Entity-relation diagrams UML class diagrams Design notations Comprehension Maintenance Verification 



We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their detailed, constructive, and thoughtful comments that helped us to improve the presentation of the results in this paper. Special thanks are also due to the students who were involved in the experiment as subjects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea De Lucia
    • 1
  • Carmine Gravino
    • 1
  • Rocco Oliveto
    • 1
  • Genoveffa Tortora
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics and InformaticsUniversity of SalernoFiscianoItaly

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