Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Conceptual modeling is the process of using a grammar to construct abstractions of relevant phenomena in a domain. The resulting conceptual schemas are intended to facilitate understanding of and communication about a domain during information systems requirements analysis and during design. Despite keen practitioner interest in conceptual modeling, there is general agreement that the modeling constructs comprising grammars lack theoretical foundations pertaining to what the constructs are intended to represent, which, in turn, inhibits our understanding of whether and why they are effective. This research contributes to our understanding of conceptual modeling grammars by proposing a theoretically-grounded approach for modeling an important aspect of the nature of properties of the phenomena of interest in a domain. Specifically, conceptual schemas typically fail to express explicitly the semantics that, when things possess particular properties, they must also possess certain other properties. This research uses Bunge’s ontological notion of property precedence as the theoretical rationale for explicitly modeling this dependence in conceptual schema diagrams. We examine several forms of precedence, and propose an approach to representing one form in conceptual schemas. We present the results of a laboratory experiment that tests the impact of explicitly representing precedence on how well participants comprehend the semantics conveyed by a conceptual schema. The results indicate that modeling precedence explicitly improves the comprehension of domain semantics expressed in a diagram’s structure, but has varying effects on subjects’ confidence in their comprehension.