Test Case Writing (Creation)


Glen Myers, in his classic book on software testing, defines software testing as “a process of executing a program with the intent of finding an error.” This definition serves very well to provide a goal for all testing activities: finding defects.

The by-product of this activity of finding defects provides a very good measure of the quality of the application. For example, the number of defects found per release can give an idea about the stability of the product, number of defects found for a particular feature can give information about the feature stability, and number of defects found on test complete (hypothetical) can give the crucial information to make release decisions. The tests themselves give an idea about the test coverage through mapping of tests to documented specs/ perceived user scenarios.

The “process of executing a program” can be very complicated though. Today’s complex applications varying in technology used, domains, user bases and interfaces provide quite a challenge to exercise the program fully. Of course, it is a well know fact that we can never cover all possibilities in program execution, so testing can never be complete. But, we can still aim at effective testing and efficient program execution with the intent of capturing defects and information (metrics). Having said this, a “test case” which can be considered to be the smallest unit of a test should also be written to satisfy this intent.

Quality can be measured for functionality, usability, performance, security, compatibility, stress, and security among other attributes. In the context of this writing though, we will talk specifically about black box functional tests, further narrowing to web based applications.

What is a” test case”?:

The IEEE definition of test case is “Documentation specifying inputs, predicted results, and a set of execution conditions for a test item.” The aim is to divide the software function into small units of function that is testable with input, and producing result that is measurable.

So, basically a test case is a feature/function description that should be executed with a range of input, given certain preconditions, and the outcome measured against expected result.

By the way, there is a common misconception relating to test cases and test scripts, or even test suite. Many people use them interchangeably, and that is a mistake. In short, a test script (or test suite) is a compilation of multiple test cases.

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What information would the test manager want out of test case document/s?

The test cases provide important information to the client regarding the quality of their product. The approach to test case writing should be such as to facilitate the collection of this information.

  1. Which features have been tested/ will be tested eventually?
  2. How many user scenarios/ use cases have been executed?
  3. How many features are stable?
  4. Which features need more work?
  5. Are sufficient input combinations exercised?
  6. Does the app give out correct error messages if the user does not use it the way it was intended to be used?
  7. Does the app respond to the various browser specific functions as it should?
  8. Does the UI conform to the specifications?
  9. Are the features traceable to the requirement spec? Have all of them been covered?
  10. Are the user scenarios traceable to the use case document? Have all of them been covered?
  11. Can these tests be used as an input to automation?
  12. Are the tests good enough? Are they finding defects?
  13. Is software ready to ship? Is testing enough?
  14. What is the quality of the application?

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Approach to test case writing

The approach to organizing test cases will determine the extent to which they are effective in finding defects and providing the information required from them. Various approaches have been listed by Cem Kaner in his paper athttp://www.kaner.com/pdfs/GoodTest.pdf

  • Function: Test each function/ feature in isolation
  • Domain : Test by partitioning different sets of values
  • Specification based: Test against published specifications
  • Risk based: Imagine a way in which a program could fail and then design tests to check whether the program will actually fail.
  • User: Tests done by users.
  • Scenario/ use case based: Based on actors/ users and a set of actions they are likely to perform in real life.
  • Exploratory: the tester actively controls the design of tests as those tests are performed and uses information gained while testing to design new and better tests.

Since the goal should be to maximize the extent to which the application is exercised, a combination of two or more of these works well. Exploratory testing in combination with any of these approaches will give the focus needed to find defects creatively.

Pure exploratory testing provides a rather creative option to traditional test case writing, but is a topic of separate discussion.

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Test case writing procedure

  • Study the application
  • Get as much information about the application as possible through available documentation (requirement specs, use cases, user guides) , tutorials, or by exercising the software itself (when available)
  • Determine a list of features and different user roles.
  • If it’s a special domain, try to obtain as much info about how the users might interact with the application.
  • Standardize an approach for test case writing-

Write test cases for different features into different documents (usually excel sheets) and name according to the feature. In case a particular application has well defined user roles, differentiate the test cases based on a combination of user role and feature. Write tests involving interaction between different user roles and modules separately for complex applications.

Further as a check, make sure that the entire application flow has been covered. For example, for an ecommerce application, the application flow will begin at registration and end at the point the user gets an order confirmation or does a successful order cancellation.  Trace this flow to the set of test cases.

  • Identify sets of test cases

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  • Identify logical sets of test cases based on individual features/ user roles or integration between them.
  • Create separate test cases for special functional tests e.g. browser specific tests (using browser specific functions like back button, closing the browser session etc), UI tests, usability tests, security tests, cookie/ state verification etc. to ensure that all tests under these categories are covered.
  • Effective test cases verify functions in isolation. If a particular feature has a lot of input combinations, separate the test into subtests. For e.g. to verify how the registration feature works with invalid input, write sub tests for different values.

Main test case: Register_01- Verify user cannot register with invalid inputs in registration form

Sub test cases:

Register_01a- Verify with invalid email id.

Register_01b- Verify with invalid phone number

Register_01c- Verify with large number of characters in password field.

  • Decide on a structure

The test case format given below serves well for functional test case writing. Some of the information may be redundant if written for each test case e.g references, in which case it can be mentioned only once in the beginning of the test case. In some cases when the use cases or requirement specs are well written, there could be a perfect mapping of each test case to a particular section of the document.


  • Test case name- Decide on a test case naming convention based on the approach used. The idea is to use such a convention so that one look at the set of test cases will inform the feature being tested or the user role/ scenario being tested. For e.g. using “Seller_Register_xx” for all test cases on seller registration will immediately indicate the number of test cases written for that user role and feature.

The test case name should be unique, so that when test cases document is used as an input to the automation scripts, all/combination of test cases can be included in a single suite of tests.

For e.g. consider the example of an auction site like eBay, buyer and seller are distinct user roles. So, the most effective approach would be to write test cases separately for buyer and seller, addressing different features that the user roles execute. (E.g. Buyer_Register_01 – Verify that inserting valid values for all fields on the registration page, registers the buyer successfully) could be one of the test cases where a buyer registers with eBay.  Similarly “Buyer_bids_01 – Verify that buyer can bid for items where the bid period has not yet expired” could be one of the test case for the bid feature for a buyer. Another set of test cases will address features for a seller.  Another set of test cases should address the interaction between buyer and seller and will be scenario based.

    • Description- Explain the function under test. Clearly state exactly what attribute is under test and under what condition.
    • Prerequisites- Every test needs to follow a sequence of actions, which lead to the function under test. It could be a certain page that a user needs to be on, or certain data that should be in the system (like registration data in order to login to the system), or certain action. State this precondition clearly in the test case. This helps to define specific steps for manual testing, and more so for automated testing, where the system needs to be in a particular base state for the function to be tested.
    • Steps- Sequence of steps to execute the specific function.
    • Input- Specify the data used for a particular test or if it is a lot of data, point to a file where this data is stored.
    • Expected result – Clearly state the expected outcome in terms of the page/ screen that should appear after the test, changes that should happen to other pages, and if possible, changes that should happen to the database.

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  • Actual result – State the actual result of the function execution. Especially in case the test case fails, the information under ‘actual result’ will be very useful to the developer to analyse the cause of the defect.
  • Status- Write status separately for tests done using different environments, e.g. various OS/browser combinations. Test case status could be-
    • “Passed” – The expected and actual results match.
    • “Failed”- The actual result does not match the expected result.
    • “Not tested”- The test case has not been executed for the test run, maybe is a lower priority test case.
    • “Not Applicable”-The test case does not apply to the feature any more since the requirement changed.
    • “Cannot be tested” – May be the prerequisite/ precondition is not met. There could be a defect in one of the steps leading up to the function under test.
  • Comments- Write additional information under this column. For e.g. the actual result occurs only under a particular condition or a defect is reproducible only sometimes. This information gives the developer/ client additional info about the feature behaviour which can be very useful in determining the root cause of a problem. It is especially useful for ”failed” cases, but also serves as a feedback if additional observation is mentioned in the “passed” cases.
  • References- Refer / map a test case to the corresponding requirement spec or use case or any other reference material that you used. This information helps gauge the test coverage against the documented requirements.


It’s a huge task to write effective cases with all the appropriate details. Once the test case documents are ready to be executed against, it’s typically only the beginning of the test effort. As you become more familiar with the application (exercising creativity while doing so) and become better “in tune” with the end users’ perspective (not only relying on the documented features/ use cases), you will likely add more relevant test cases. Also, it will be the same with each progression towards the final release, as features get added/ deleted or modified while building towards the final product.  Thus, the usefulness of the test cases will ultimately depend on how current and relevant they are.

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