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Friday
Nov112011

Start with a blank sheet of paper

When I sit down to write a formal test document, I start with a blank sheet of paper. I do not start with a template.

I do that for a couple of reasons. First, I find that when I use a template I spend more time focusing on filling in the various sections than I do really thinking about the problem I'm trying to solve. The template distracts me from focusing on the problem in a deep and meaningful way. Second, I find that templates can anchor my thinking into specific solutions. When I'm actively thinking about what I want to do with my testing, I want every option on the table. I don't want a document to "guide" my thinking by limiting my options to the sections it contains.

Later, after I've done all the heavy lifting, I'll go back and format my document into the company template for that document. That allows me to add/remove sections as needed. The template does serve as a useful tool at that point. It serves as a quick check-sum to let me know if I've missed any critical piece of the equation or if I haven't thought something out enough.

This tip was part of a brainstorm developed at the September 2011 Indianapolis Workshop on Software Testing on the topic of "Documenting for Testing." The attendees of that workshop (and participants in the brainstorm) included: Charlie Audritsh, Scott Barber, Rick Grey, Michael Kelly, Natalie Mego, Charles Penn, Margie Weaver, and Tina Zaza.


Reader Comments (7)

You are right, but not entirely. It is better to start with a blank sheet of paper when you have experience or when you are sure about what you need, but when you are beginner and you have no experience behind (also you have no one to teach you) will spend more time to write a formal test document using a blank sheet and also it can be not so complete as it need. Of course after a while of using templates (I think it's important to use different templates, this is important for you not for the company) you will be able to define you own "template" and you will be able to write a formal test document using a blank sheet.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIon

Ion, I'm not sure I agree.

I would say that even for people new to testing they should start with a blank sheet of paper. I did, and still do. Most people who are new to testing who I coach, I coach to start with a blank sheet of paper. By doing this they learn to think through the problem in detail before they go down the road of documenting their thinking. After they have a possible solution in mind (perhaps more than one), they might leverage a template (or two) to double-check their approach/thinking.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Kelly

I totally agree with you, but the problem is when there is nobody to coach or even worst there is nobody to review you documents. Theoretically your method is the best but practically there are some barriers. If a tester need to write a formal test document and he/she don't know to much about this (don't have solid specification about the project) and also he/she don't have to much time to investigate will miss a lot of points. Even you will use a blank paper I think it's better to consult a template and to figure out what points need to be covered. I don't say that those templates are good, in most of the time you should to make a mix between couple of templates. In my case I talk about testers which doesn't have experience with test document or don't have a real mentor (not google).

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIon

I do that for a couple of reasons. First, I find that when I use a template I spend more time focusing on filling in the various sections than I do really thinking about the problem I'm trying to solve. The template distracts me from focusing on the problem in a deep and meaningful way. Second, I find that templates can anchor my thinking into specific solutions. When I'm actively thinking about what I want to do with my testing, I want every option on the table. I don't want a document to "guide" my thinking by limiting my options to the sections it contains.

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December 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergirlsex

Great post!

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVince Finnemore

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