Oh, THAT’S what you meant?!?

Prashant Chavan expressed frustration today on the Agile Testing mailing list about there not being any standard definitions of testing terms. I can sympathize. That said, one of the hallmarks of becoming a more experienced tester is learning that there are no standard definitions…and can’t be any, given the lack of consensus in the field on what testing is.

I learned early on not to assume that I knew what others meant when they used a term. True story:

Early on at my second testing job, my boss came by and asked me how much “Sanity Testing” I’d done on the product so far. Not being familiar with the term, I asked how he used it and he replied, “You know, when you’ve finished the standard acceptance level testing, and you’re doing lots of insane cases, looking for hidden bugs.” We were then able to have a conversation.

I was curious though, because it frankly seemed like an odd usage. I googled “sanity testing” and most of the references I found were to quick checks, often done before moving on to more thorough testing, e.g. this from the Wikipedia “In computer science, a sanity test is a very brief run-through of the functionality of a computer program, system, calculation, or other analysis, to assure that the system or methodology works as expected, often prior to a more exhaustive round of testing.”

Our industry doesn’t have enough agreement (or any one source of authority) to have “right” meanings of words…but I noted that in this case my boss’s usage of “sanity test” was almost the opposite of the most common examples I’ve seen. If I already had a definition of sanity testing, perhaps I would’ve assumed I knew what he meant…and ended up in a frustrating miscommunication.

In the long run, the Association for Software Testing has been talking about a Dictionary Project that (rather than trying to present a nonexistent One True Definition) will show a range of usage for words, together with citations, similar to the Oxford English Dictionary. Needless to say, this is an ambitious project and right now I believe it’s awaiting volunteers who’re ready to lead the effort. If you think that might be you, let me know!


5 Responses to “Oh, THAT’S what you meant?!?”

  1. Michael Bolton Says:

    Well put, Jeff.

    It’s very important to recognize that even if there were industry-standard definitions and you knew them, you would ever be able to predict when someone would misuse or misinterpret or misimplement just one of them. So, in the style of the Agile Manifesto, let’s value “continuous refinement of understanding through coversation” over “belief in industry standard terminology”.

    —Michael B.

  2. Michael Bolton Says:

    ever => never

  3. testingjeff Says:

    Thanks Micheal, I like “continuous refinement of understanding through coversation” over “belief in industry standard terminology”.

  4. STC Technologies Says:

    Developers and engineering managers most of them in my experience look up to testers as a necessary evil.

  5. Claudiu Says:


    Although this is a old post…I fount it to be very close the work that I do…I have crated a map for software testing and now I am going through hundreds of testing blog related posts to validate it… It will not be a standard…because as you mentioned “Our industry doesn’t have enough agreement (or any one source of authority)” but it will be a point of departure….

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