TITLE: Analytical Observational Studies in Software Engineering

DURATION: Full day


Running Mining Software Repositories (MSR) studies has become popular over the years. However, as MSR studies use observational data, they lack the required level of control to identify causality. Consequently, papers report correlational results—in the best case—and state that causality cannot be revealed. This is a major limitation for MSR studies. In other disciplines this issue has been addressed by developing strategies that replacing control by choice, are able to come closer to revealing causality in observational studies. The objective of the school is to introduce the participants to Analytical Observational Studies (AOS). This type of studies can also be applied in the context of MSR. After the school, the participants should be able to conduct an AOS following the steps and techniques taught.

The school will explore the concepts of correlation and causation, along with the requirements that a study should meet to be able to identify causality. Special attention will be given to the concept of extraneous variables, as it is central in running AOS. The main content of the school is how to design and analyze an AOS.

The school consists of lectures and an illustrative example that will be run in parallel. The lectures introduce the concepts while in the illustrative example the participants are divided into smaller groups in which they apply the introduced concepts in a real MSR study. The goal is to give the participants ability to apply AOS in their own research.


The general goal of the school is that participants learn how to run Analytical Observational Studies in MSR. IT can be divided into four objectives. Participants will:

  • O1: Understand the difference between correlation and causation, and its implications.
  • O2: Understand the differences between experiments and analytical observational studies.
  • O3: Learn how analytical observational studies can be used in MSR.
  • O4: Apply the analytical observational studies methods and techniques to conduct a MSR study.