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Ruth McKeever & Kevin McDaid


Practitioners often argue that range names make spreadsheets easier to understand and use, akin to the role of good variable names in traditional programming languages, yet there is no supporting scientific evidence.

The authors previously published experiments that disproved this theory in relation to debugging, and now turn their focus to development. This paper presents the results of two iterations of a new experiment, which measure the effect of range names on the correctness of, and the time it takes to develop, simple summation formulas.

Our findings, supported by statistically significant results, show that formulas developed by non-experts using range names are more likely to contain errors and take longer to develop. Taking these findings with the findings from previous experiments, we conclude that range names do not improve the quality of spreadsheets developed by novice and intermediate users.

This paper is important in that it finds that the choice of naming convention can have a significant impact on novice and intermediate users' performance in formula development, with less structured naming conventions resulting in poorer performance by users.


Errors per task - with and without named ranges
Errors per task - with and without named ranges

Participants were less effective at developing formulas using range names than using cell references. In several cases the incorrect formula contained more than one error.


2011, EuSpRIG

Full article

Effect of range naming conventions on reliability and development time for simple spreadsheet formulas