What is an IT report?
The purpose of reports is to aid decision making and problem solving, and therefore they are usually more problem and action oriented than essays.
While reports vary in the type of information they present (for example, original research, the results of an investigative study, or the solution to a design problem), all share similar features and are based on a similar format and general structure. They are clearly signposted with headings and sub-headings, and designed in a way that reflects that the information may not be read in order from start to finish.
Report writing is a common requirement both in the faculty of Information Technology and in the workplace as an IT professional. Developing the skills to produce a clear, concise, and professionally presented report will assist you in succeeding both at university and in your future career.
Five things you should know about report writing in IT View
Provide a discussion
Reports in IT provide a discussion of a project, an experiment or analysis, or technical features of a product, as opposed to essays, which present a position on a topic and defend that position with an argument.
Structure into sections
Reports are structured into sections, with each section having a particular purpose as outlined in headings and subheadings.
Paragraphs may be short
Paragraphs in IT reports may be shorter in length than in other academic writing genres, as the headings can remove the need for clarification of what the sections are about.
Follow the instructions
The structure of an IT report should be determined by the task instructions. Do not use the common section types like ‘Methodology’, ‘Discussion’, ‘Table of Contents’ or ‘Appendices’ if the task instructions or subject matter do not require them.
Use a report format
Academic journal articles in the field of IT are often written in report format. Use the Library Subject Guide for IT to search for examples of what these reports can look like.
IT report structure
Most reports have a similar structure and include
- an introductory section to orient your reader to the aims and purpose of the report
- a body section where the issue is discussed and analysed, and
- a concluding section which sums of the meaning and implications of the body section.
These main sections are further divided into subsections. Click on the accordions below to explore each section in detail.
A title page is presented on a separate page and should include:
- subject name and code
- assignment number
- title of the report
- due date
- student’s name and ID#
- marker’s name
- course name
- department and university
- date of submission.
The title of the report should indicate exactly what the report is about. The reader should know not only the general topic, but also the aspects of the topic contained in the report. Therefore, a report title needs to be specific to the topic. For example, “Reasons for IT to lose its grip on large data” is a better report title than “Large data in IT”, if the report focuses on why managing big data can cause problems for IT teams.
Some key points about a Summary:
- A Summary, sometimes called an Executive Summary or an Abstract, is usually 100-200 words long for a short report or a page long for a longer report.
- It provides a brief overview of the report by stating the purpose, defining the topic, summarising the main sections of the report, and stating the conclusion or outcomes.
- Most people don’t write an Abstract until they finish writing the report.
- It is NOT an introduction to the topic.
- Remember that a Summary needs to be concise. A busy manager who might not have time to read the full report should be able to get the gist of the whole report by reading the Summary.
- To be included in a Summary:
- topic of the report
- outline of the approach to the task if applicable
- most important findings of research or key aspects of design
- main outcomes or conclusions.
- NOT to be included in a Summary:
- general background information
- in-text citations
- reference to later diagrams or references.
A sample of a report Summary and tutor’s video feedback is provided here. Note that this is NOT a perfect example. The sample Summary is from a report entitled "Privacy issues in IT".
Sample of a report Summary
View the video for feedback
A Table of Contents lists the sections of the report, providing readers with an overview of how the report is organised. It is presented on a separate page and should include:
- section headings
- the number of the first page of each section.
A reader looking for specific information should be able to locate the appropriate section easily from the table of contents. It is worth noting that few reports are written to be read from start to finish. This is why clear structure, headings and subheadings are so important.
Follow these conventions for section and page numbering:
- Number all the preliminary pages (i.e. any pages that come before the introduction, including the summary) in lowercase Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv ...).
- Number all the remaining pages of your report with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4 ...). Thus the report proper begins on page 1 with your Introduction, which is usually Section 1.
- Sections are numbered using the decimal point numbering system (e.g. Section 1, 1.1, 1.2, ….) Section and subsection numbering should not exceed two decimal points.
Check your understanding View
From the two examples below, choose the better table of contents.
This video will help you write a clear table of contents
An Introduction section provides the background information needed for the rest of your report to be understood. It is usually around ten percent of the total report length. The Introduction includes:
- the background to the topic of your report to set your work in its broad context
- brief technical background necessary to understand the report; e.g. theory or assumptions
- a clear statement of the purpose of the report, usually to present the results of your research, investigation or design
- a clear statement of the aims of the project
- a brief outline of the structure of the report.
Look at the sample Introduction below. Note that this is not a perfect example. The sample Introduction is from a report entitled "Keeping employees' education level updated with the changing world”. Which aspects of an ideal Introduction do you find missing?
This video provides a step-by-step guide to writing an excellent report introduction
This is the main part of your report, where you present your work. It should consist of information which is supported by examples and evidence obtained from your research.
In principle, the body of the report:
- presents the information from your research, both real world and theoretical, or your design
- organises information logically under appropriate headings
- conveys information in the most effective way for communication:
- uses figures and tables
- can use bulleted or numbered lists, but the bulk should be paragraphs made up of full sentences
- can use formatting to break up large slabs of text.
You will need to choose concise but informative headings and subheadings so that the reader knows exactly what type of information to expect in each section. These headings need to be:
Section headings should tell the reader exactly what type of information is contained in the section. They should be specific and content-focused rather than just labels. Devising informative headings as opposed to label headings right from the planning stage will help you to clarify exactly what you want to achieve in each section and subsection.
In the example below for an article review report, there are comparisons between informative and uninformative headings.
Examples of informative and uninformative headings
Reasons for inclusion
Other complementary sources
Strengths and weaknesses of article
Relevance to the audience
This means that headings should follow a similar grammatical form. In the following example, each heading is structured differently. You should take one of these forms, in most cases the first (noun phrase), and use this form for each heading:
Examples of grammatically consistent headings
The company structure
Do the communication channels work?
Participating in groups
How to develop an effective management style
There are conventions for using figures and tables in a report. Usually only these two categories are used; anything other than tables (maps, charts, diagrams, drawings, graphs) is called a figure. Figures and tables should be placed as close as possible to the point where they are referred to in the text.
Give all figures and tables a number and title.
The title of a table goes above the table, while the title of a figure goes below the figure.
Figures that are copied from someone else's work, published or unpublished, must be correctly referenced. Give the source of the diagram or the data if you have taken them from published sources. The citation should be placed in brackets after the figure or table title, and the source included in the Reference list.
You will often have to include equations in your reports. The conventional style for presenting equations is as follows:
Centre the equation on the page.
Place the equation number in round brackets at the right-hand margin.
In the text of your report, refer to the equations as either Eq. (1) or equation (1). Use whichever format you choose consistently throughout your report.
The Conclusion section provides an effective ending to your report; thus it needs to be written in a concise manner. The content should relate directly to the aims of the project as stated in the Introduction, and sum up the essential features of your work.
In brief, the Conclusion section needs to:
- summarise the main ideas that have been established in the body of the report
- recap key findings
- finish the narrative of the report
- state how the report’s aims have been achieved
- give a brief summary of the key findings or information in your report
- highlight the major outcomes of your investigation and their significance.
Therefore, the Conclusion section must not:
- include any new information or ideas
- simply indicate whether you have achieved your aims.
It is rare for a report’s conclusion to require in-text citations, as this is the section where your ‘voice’ is expected to be used to sum up and offer an authoritative final commentary about the report topic.
The following example is the Conclusion of an article review report.
View video for feedback
You need to reference all source materials referred to in the report using the APA 7th referencing style as required by the Faculty of IT. The two parts to referencing are:
- citations in the text of the report
- references in the reference list.
A citation shows that information comes from another source you found during the research process. The reference list, always on a separate page, gives the details of the sources you have found and used to support your response to the topic. You need to use in-text citations and provide full details in the references section when:
- you incorporate information from other sources, e.g.:
- factual material
- graphs and tables of data
- pictures and diagrams
- you paraphrase published ideas and information
- you quote word-for-word from another work (when you do this, the page or paragraph number must be given in the in-text citation).
Your reference list should only include items you have cited in the text of your report, and any item that is cited must appear in the reference list. You will be graded on the accuracy of your citing and referencing, so getting this right in your report is a simple way to increase the likelihood of a higher grade than you would attain if the referencing is careless or does not adhere to the required conventions.
Use the Library Subject Guide for citing and referencing APA 7th to ensure you are doing this accurately, and meet with a Librarian if you require further advice.
Check your understanding View
Which of these resources is incorrectly formatted in APA 7th style?
An appendix (plural form = appendices) consists of any supporting evidence which is not possible to include in the body of the report, for example raw data, detailed drawings, coding or calculations. An appendix, like a reference list, should always appear on a separate page, and each appendix should have its own separate page(s). The conventions for appendices are as follows:
- Each appendix must be given a number (or letter) and title.
- Each appendix must be referred to by number (or letter) at the relevant point in the text.