Pseudocoding: Computer Programming Made Simpler
Similar to how writers use outlines to describe the topics they want to cover, software developers use pseudocode to plainly describe the steps in an algorithm. And just as an outline isn’t the completed paper, pseudocode isn’t the completed program. Pseudocoding exists to establish an overview of a software developer’s programming goal—only instead of nouns and verbs, pseudocoding uses variables and functions.
Similar to how writers use outlines to describe the topics they want to cover, software developers use pseudocode to plainly describe the steps in an algorithm.
How Does Pseudocoding Help People Learn Computer Programming?
Imagine you’re faced with a complex software challenge. You’re pretty sure you know how you want to tackle the problem, but you need an easy way to visualize each step in context. Enter: pseudocoding.
Pseudocoding in the code comments
The key to crafting useful pseudocode is writing it in the code comments, which prevents the interpreter from reading your pseudocode as actual syntax created to instruct the program.
When you’re first learning to code, pseudocoding is especially valuable. Instead of painstakingly wrangling a still-unfamiliar programming language, you can use pseudocode to draft the equivalent of a “to-do list”—small steps you can trace toward realizing a larger solution and comprehensive program.
How to write pseudocode
Pseudocoding should adhere to a few simple rules. The primary rule? Use indentation to define your outline’s hierarchy.
Here are a couple of examples of pseudocode and indented sub-pseudocode:
If student's grade is greater than or equal to 60
Set total to zero
Set grade counter to one
While grade counter is less than or equal to ten
Input the next grade
Add the grade into the total
Set the class average to the total divided by ten
Print the class average
Can you see how pseudocode helps a software developer to “decompose the problem” (as we call it)? With pseudocode, you’re no longer overwhelmed with one BIG problem. Instead, you’ve neatly outlined a series of smaller problems that you can more easily address one by one.
You take on the first problem first, the second problem second, and so on, accomplishing little wins with each subsequent solution.
Novice software developers find this approach liberating. Pseudocoding streamlines an otherwise ill-defined problem into a navigable series of steps with clear processes and boundaries.
Sounds simple, right?
Let’s look at what this code will need to accomplish:
First, you need to ask the player which “part” they want to play: rock, paper, or scissors. But does the player actually type “rock,” “paper,” or “scissors”? Or do they enter something silly or make a simple spelling mistake?
Once the player has entered a proper choice, the computer must randomly choose a value of its own. This selection should then be displayed for the player to see.
Now, the computer will analyze the business rules you’ve created to determine the winner of the game. Writing the business rules analysis in pseudocode ensures you won’t miss a single step.
When to use pseudocode
As a rule, you should use pseudocode any time you’re writing more than a half-dozen lines of code. For every 4-6 lines of code, write pseudocode in the code comments before you write any code.
As a rule, you should use pseudocode any time you’re writing more than a half-dozen lines of code. For every 4-6 lines of code, write pseudocode in the code comments.
Pseudocoding is different from writing, say, a research paper, where you may jump around a bit as you build your outline into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. We recommend writing pseudocode sequentially, from the top down. If you start in the middle of the program, you may unintentionally overlook key prerequisite details.
Use plain language to describe what you want the program to do, and you’ll be on track to create the real syntax.
Pseudocode’s Key Benefits
Here’s a quick recap of everything we covered about pseudocoding:
- Pseudocoding allows you to reduce overwhelm by decomposing the problem.
- Pseudocoding helps you quickly get your ideas out of your head and into an editor.
- Pseudocoding empowers you to problem-solve without the distraction of complex syntax.
When Launch Academy students use pseudocode correctly, they approach problems with enhanced confidence and deliver higher-quality first drafts of their solutions.
Ready to learn computer programming? Download our syllabus!