Practical relevance of software engineering research: Synthesizing the community's voice

Vahid Garousi, Markus Borg, Markku Oivo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Software engineering (SE) research should be relevant to industrial practice. There have been regular discussions in the SE community on this issue since the 1980’s, led by pioneers such as Robert Glass. As we recently passed the milestone of “50 years of software engineering”, some recent positive efforts have been made in this direction, e.g., establishing “industrial” tracks in several SE conferences. However, many researchers and practitioners believe that we, as a community, are still struggling with research relevance and utility. The goal of this paper is to synthesize the evidence and experience-based opinions shared on this topic so far in the SE community, and to encourage the community to further reflect and act on the research relevance. For this purpose, we have conducted a Multi-vocal Literature Review (MLR) of 54 systematically-selected sources (papers and non peer-reviewed articles). Instead of relying on and considering the individual opinions on research relevance, mentioned in each of the sources, the MLR aims to synthesize and provide the “holistic” view on the topic. The highlights of our MLR findings are as follows. The top three root causes of low relevance, discussed in the community, are: (1) Researchers having simplistic views (or wrong assumptions) about SE in practice; (2) Lack of connection with industry; and (3) Wrong identification of research problems. The top three suggestions for improving research relevance are: (1) Using appropriate research approaches such as action-research; (2) Choosing relevant (practical) research problems; and (3) Collaborating with industry. By synthesizing all the discussions on this important topic so far, this paper aims to encourage further discussions and actions in the community to increase our collective efforts to improve the research relevance. Furthermore, we raise the need for empirically-grounded and rigorous studies on the relevance problem in SE research, as carried out in other fields such as management science.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 05 Mar 2020


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