Software readability has emerged as an important software quality metric. Numerous pieces of research have highlighted the importance of readability. Developers generally spend a large amount of their time reading and understanding existing code, rather than writing new code. By creating more readable code, engineers can limit the mental load required to understand specific code segments. With this importance established, research has been done into how to improve software readability. This research looked for ways of measuring readability, how to create more readable software, and how to potentially improve readability. While some research has examined the changes developers make, their use of automatic source code analysis may miss some aspects of these changes. As such, this study conducted a manual review of software readability commits to identify what changes developers tend to make. In this study, we identified 1,782 potential readability commits for 800 open-source Java projects, by mining keyword patterns in commit messages. These commits were then reviewed by human reviewers to identify the changes made by the developers. The observations made by the reviewers were then reviewed for trends, from which several categories would be established. These categories would be further reviewed for additional trends, developing a taxonomy of readability changes. Overall, this research looked at 314 changes from 194 commits across 154 unique projects. This study shows the developers’ actions when improving software readability, identifying the common trends of method extraction, identifier renaming, and code formatting, supported by existing research. In addition, this research presents less observed trends, such as code removal or keyword modification, which were changes not seen in other research. Overall, this work provides a taxonomy of the trends seen, identifying high level trends as well as subgroups within those trends.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Software reengineering; Technical writing; Readability (Literary style)

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Software Engineering (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Software Engineering (GCCIS)


Christian D. Newman

Advisor/Committee Member

J. Scott Hawker

Advisor/Committee Member

Mohamed Wiem Mkaouer


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes