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What is Pseudocode? Here’s What You Need to Know

02/14/2024
5 minutes

Pseudocode is an effective tool that programmers can use to break large problems down into more digestible sections. Imagine a writer who plans to write a novel. There are many elements to consider, like the characters, plot, setting, scenes, and so on. Without a way to plan the story’s direction, the novel can become a collection of disconnected ideas. That’s why most writers plot out the basic details in an outline. 

Pseudocode is like a writer’s outline, only it’s a roadmap for writing code. It takes some basic programming knowledge to understand what you’re looking at when reading pseudocode. But since pseudocode isn’t an actual programming language or tied to a specific syntax, even beginners and non-programmers can grasp the high-level basics of the application’s outline or rough draft.  

Ahead, we’ll explain how pseudocode can come in handy when building various applications. And if you’re more of a visual learner, check out the video below.

Why programmers use pseudocode 

Pseudocode lets programmers write their application plans in plain English before transferring it to a programming language, like Java. This makes it easier to determine user flows and eliminate top-level flow errors. 

​​Developing software​ is a collaborative process. Along with programmers, you also have product designers, marketing managers, and other teams who have a stake in the application’s development. Resolving problems among team members with varying levels of programming knowledge can eat up a lot of resources, which is one reason why pseudocode helps dev teams save both time and effort. 

Pseudocode helps devs find pitfalls and problems before development begins. Once the pseudocode outline is complete, it’s usually inspected and verified by other programmers or system designers. In short, pseudocode makes it easier to write algorithms that work with minimal issues and deliver the desired result before you get to the nitty gritty coding work. 

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Using pseudocode to solve problems 

Pseudocode serves as a versatile tool that aids in various aspects of the coding journey, like problem-solving. With pseudocode, you can break down complex problems into manageable, bite-sized pieces or subgroups and get closer to identifying the core problem an application aims to solve. Pseudocode acts as a document for high-level solutions and provides a structured overview of the planned approach. Plus, pseudocode can be valuable when you’re evaluating the success of a project because you can compare your end product with the initial intentions. 

Here are some more advantages of using pseudocode​​: 

  • Better readability. Pseudocode makes communication clearer for people from an array of disciplines, such as mathematicians, business partners, and managers. 
  • Better code construction. Pseudocode makes it easier to convert those principles into code written in any programming language faster. 
  • Faster development: Outlining a project with pseudocode helps solidify an idea and expedite production. 
  • Easier bug detection and repair. The ​higher-level​ format in pseudocode makes finding and repairing bugs faster and smoother before the first line of code is even written. 

In addition to all of these benefits, pseudocode can be used to create user scenarios and stories, avoid bugs, crashes, and other error messages. It’s flexible and doesn’t follow the same formal standards as writing code, so it allows you to discover more efficient solutions, iterate quicker, and create a more refined coding process overall. 

How to write pseudocode 

The cool thing about pseudocode, especially for beginners, is that it’s not tied to a specific programming language or formal standards. Technically anyone can write pseudocode, but you need some fundamental programming knowledge to understand what it is you’re describing or reading. In our free course Learn the Basics of Programming, you’ll acquire foundational programming knowledge and hone your pseudocode writing skills. This course also helps you identify the programming language that best suits your goals.  

Pseudocode is typically written in uppercase, and the six primary parameters (or keywords) of pseudocode are: 

  • SEQUENCE. It means a sequence performed right after another. 
  • WHILE. With a condition at the beginning, it is a loop. 
  • REPEAT-UNTIL. A loop with a condition at the bottom. 
  • FOR. Additional way to enact looping. 
  • IF-THEN-ELSE. ​Directs an algorithms flow.​ 
  • CASE. A generalization of IF-THEN-ELSE. 

These basic commands are enough to write sufficient pseudocode, but some projects may require two additional commands. The first one is CALL, which is used to invoke a function. The other deals with code handling exceptions, so the command EXCEPTION, WHEN keywords might be used. 

Here’s an example of what a pseudocode snippet for a simple Python program that finds the larger of two numbers:

BEGIN
    NUMERIC nNum1, nNum2
    DISPLAY "ENTER THE FIRST NUMBER: "
    INPUT nNum1
    DISPLAY "ENTER THE SECOND NUMBER: "
    INPUT nNum2
    IF nNum1 > nNum2
        DISPLAY nNum1 + " is larger than " + nNum2
    ELSE
        DISPLAY nNum2 + " is larger than " + nNum1
    END

Tips for writing good pseudocode  

Pseudocode is meant to be easily understood by anyone who needs to understand the direction of your application build process. ​Some common practices include:​ 

  1. Capitalizing the initial word or main command (usually one of the parameters listed above). 
  1. Writing one statement per line. 
  1. Indenting to clarify a hierarchy (if there is one) and make your pseudocode easier to decipher. 
  1. Ending sections with the END keyword (ENDIF, ENDWHILE, etc.). 
  1. Making programming language statements independent. 
  1. Naming the problem domain. In other words, try to be specific and avoid vagueness. 
  1. Keeping it simple, to the point, and easy to read. 

Get started with pseudocode 

To recap, pseudocode stands out as a powerful tool for several reasons. It’s English-like format makes it clear and accessible across a wide variety of audiences. Writing pseudocode comes with no associated costs or additional expenses to a tech team — in fact, it accelerates and streamlines the application building phase. Above all, pseudocode allows for error correction before any actual code is written, contributing to a more robust development process.  

If you want to start writing pseudocode yourself, check out our free course Learn the Basics of Programming with Codecademy. You’ll learn how to write pseudocode as you pick up the basics of programming, and how to figure out which programming language is best for you.

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