Institute for Software Research
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Seminal Papers in Software Engineering:
The Carnegie Mellon Canonical Collection

Mary Shaw (editor), Jonathan Aldrich, Travis D. Breaux,
David Garlan, Christian Kästner,
Claire Le Goues, William L. Scherlis

September 2015


Keywords: Software engineering, cononical collection

To understand the context of current research, it is essential to understand how current results evolved from early fundamental papers. These classic papers develop timeless ideas that transcend technology changes, and the ideas embodied in their solutions often apply to current problems (and, indeed, are reinvented by researchers who are ignorant of the classic literature).

Criteria for selection of the papers in the Canon include

  • Papers are selected for their overall significance. The papers should usually be the principal or definitive papers about an idea, rather than expository papers written after the idea has matured (these may appear in other reading lists). A rule of thumb is that the paper in the Canon should be the one you'd cite as the fundamental paper in its area.
  • Classic, timeless papers prove their significance over time. It follows that the papers of the Canon will generally be published a minimum of 12-15 years ago.
  • Some of the entries may be books. In these cases, the books should be important in their own right, but the entry should highlight one or a few specific passages in the book to focus on. Students should develop a sense of the rest of the book as well.
  • Because the size of the Canon is limited, authors will rarely be represented by multiple papers, and redundancy will generally be avoided.
  • All students should be familiar with all the papers, and the SE Research Core course should cover them. In practice this limits the size of the Canon to about 25 papers.

The Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering faculty has selected this set of papers as a canonical collection of significant classic papers that balances completeness with reasonable size. All our software engineering students should read and understand these papers (or selections from books). Notes in this document explain the significance of the papers. We will endeavor to cover them in the Core Course in Software Engineering Research, and other courses may feel free to assume that students have read them.

9 pages

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