Information Systems Project (158.799)
Project Report Format

This page provides an overview of the structure and content of the Information Technology Project (158.799) research report.

Information Systems Project

The Information Systems Project can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your academic career. However, it is different in that academic writing is more demanding than you may have previously experienced - essentially you not only have to think logically and clearly but also write the same way! No two projects are the same, but the academic format is so general it always applies.

For a general discussion of the academic format see here

To download a checklist for academic writing, click here

Information Systems Project Final Report

Title page: The title is a succinct description of your research topic, usually no more than 15 words. The title should be centred on the top third of the page in a large font. Next, include your name, centred near the middle of the page in a medium-sized font.

Centred, in the bottom third of the page, in a slightly smaller font, on three separate lines as indicated, are the words:

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a
[insert name of degree] at Massey University
Auckland, New Zealand

And just below this statement is the date, centred and in the same font size.

Statement of academic integrity: At some point in your preliminary pages, perhaps on the acknowledgements page or the abstract page, should be this statement: "I declare that this research study is entirely the product of my own work and that it has not been taken from the work of others. When the work and ideas of others have been used in the study, the work has been properly cited in the text."

Additionally, include a signature line and, when the report is complete, you will be required to sign this.

Acknowledgements: This optional section is your opportunity to thank all those who assisted with your research project or supported you in this endeavour.

Table of contents: This is the standard listing of chapters and sections with identifying page numbers.

Include a List of tables and a List of figures.

Abstract: A short (maximum of 200 words) summary of your research including the purpose, methodology and key results.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The first chapter usually has several specific sections, as described below:

Introduction to the study: The research report begins with a few pages that are intended to introduce the study and explain its importance. If possible, start with an attention-grabbing paragraph or two -- using statistics, a quote, or a compelling question. Gently introduce the topic and, most critically, explain the importance of the study. Why it is important to do the research? Who will benefit from this research and why? What needs will it satisfy?

Purpose of the study: Within the first few pages make an explicit purpose statement ("The purpose of this study is to....") and follow that with supporting research questions, objectives (specific anticipated outcomes) or hypotheses. Explain each question, objective or hypothesis briefly, with emphasis on how these will fulfill the purpose of the study.

Background to the study: Now begin to explain what the study is about. Describe key concepts, technologies, applications, etc. If the study is to focus on a particular organisation, population or theory, provide background about that here too. Almost certainly you will have to mention the research methodology you will use. If necessary, include a table that defines key words and/or acronyms here or as a glossary at the very end of the chapter.

Outline of the study: Conclude the first chapter with an overview of what is ahead. In a textual format, tell the reader what chapters are included in the report and, briefly and specifically, the contents of those chapters.

By the end of chapter 1 the reader should be informed as to what the study is about. This is necessary in order for the reader to be able to put the expansive content of the literature review in perspective.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

The literature review does more than tell the reader what the research is about, that is done in the background section of Chapter 1. However, depending on the study, more detail about the topic can be provided in the literature review.

The principal purpose of the literature review is to tell the reader what major research studies have been done in this area and how your work fits into this stream of research.

Chapter 2 does this by: (a) summarising the key findings and relevant assumptions of previous research that is directly related to your research question(s); (b) explaining how your work fills current gaps in the literature or addresses existing weaknesses in current theory or practice; and (c) introducing the theory, conceptual framework or model that will be the basis for your study.

A popular approach is to treat the literature review as a funnel. Begin with an overview of the broad, conceptual research ("the big picture") and gradually narrow the discussion to a more detailed description of the few studies that are directly related to your research. The role your study plays in extending the research of others should "pop out of the bottom of the funnel" at the conclusion of the literature review.

Similarly, try to follow a concept-by-concept approach in presenting the literature review, not a study-by-study approach. This means put the emphasis on the results of the study, not the author. So, for example, avoid sentences such as "According to Smith (2004) computer use rises by 15 percent." or "Smith (2004) says...". Instead clearly state the study's findings and conclude with a citation (e.g., "Computer use increased 15 percent (Smith, 2004).").

The literature review must contain considerable research from the academic literature. This may be easy or hard, depending on your topic. However, a literature review that consists entirely of articles from the Web, textbooks and the popular literature will automatically receive low marks.

The Literature Review should conclude with a selection of the particular framework that your research will use (from perhaps many possible proposed theories) and also a particular Research Question that you intend to address.

Chapter 3: Method

Research method(s) used in the study: Begin this chapter by declaring what research method(s) (e.g., case study, field study, action research, lab experiment, Delphi method) is used in this research and describe the method(s) with the assumption that the reader is not familiar with this methodology. Conclude this section by explaining why the methodology is suitable for your research project. The description of the method and the explanation of its relevance in your study should be closely linked.

Then specifically apply the research method to your study. What population or sample is used? Justify the sample based on the purpose of the study and the research approach. What potential problems or issues were addressed to ensure this method was used successfully? Outline your research design, identify any aspects that are new and justify the suitability of the approach and its limitations.

Data collection procedures: Second, describe the data collection method(s) (e.g., interview, questionnaires, prototyping) that were used. How was the sample selected? How were the data collected? What procedures and instruments were used? What problems in collecting the data were foreseen and were these problems minimised? What procedures were used to insure reliability and validity of the results? If you did a pilot study, summarise the results and how it influenced the conduct of your study.

Keep this explanation at a high level. Don't bore the reader with details about what online databases were searched, how you went about deciding what qualitative software you used, how many companies you approached before you found a willing participant, etc.

Include any detailed information (e.g., survey forms, interview questionnaire, detailed data about participants) in the Appendices.

Statistical analysis: Next, briefly describe the statistical methods (e.g., analysis of variance, correlation analysis, measures of central tendency, coding of qualitative data) and relevant software (e.g., SPSS) you used to analyse your results. Include in this discussion a brief explanation as to why these statistical procedures are appropriate for the study.

Ethical and cultural issues: Another key aspect of the methodology chapter is to discuss any ethical or cultural issues that were considered in the conduct of the study. Massey University has a Human Ethics Web site that provides guidance to any research that requires the participation of humans. If your research deals with human subjects, you will need to submit either (a) a low risk notification or (b) an application for ethical approval to the Massey University Human Ethics Committee. Submit this low risk notification or application for ethics approval as soon as you have decided on your methodology as you may need to structure your study in a certain way and/or get signed consent forms from participants. This process is discussed in a 157.799 lecture, but your supervisor is the best person to assist you with the ethical approval process.

Chapter 4: Results

This chapter is a turning point. You move from background and what you did, to what you found. For most readers, this is where the exciting content begins.

In Chapter 4 present your results in a straightforward and factual manner. Objectivity is important here. You are not interpreting, analysing or drawing conclusions (that happens in the next chapter). Instead you are presenting your findings in as clear and objective manner as you can.

Include tables and meaningful graphics, but also explain all results in the text.

Detailed results can be placed in an appendix, but put all summary data and discussion here. Do not force the reader to constantly be flipping back and forth between chapter 4 and an appendix.

The results chapter can be quite long and detailed (e.g., a case study has to report all the findings of interviews and document analysis and with a considerable number of quotes from individuals) or quite short (e.g., an experimental design may report the results mostly in tabular form with statistical analysis and explanatory text in a few pages).

Conclude the chapter with numbered conclusions that follow from the analysis. The next chapter will explain why these findings are important and to whom (i.e., as was suggested in Chapter 1).

Chapter 5: Discussion

The final chapter typically begins with a summary of what was found and why. You might look at this first page or two as an executive summary of the research report.

Here is the opportunity to move away from objective reporting of the results to more subjective views. Now given your results derived through analytical logic from your data, you can now draw comparisons with what was found by previous researchers, suggest the future and discuss implications. Indeed, a key part of this chapter will be to link your findings back to what was reported in the literature review. Did your findings support previous research or are the results different? If different, what might explain the differences? Can your results be generalised to a larger or different population in previous research? Feel free to interpret and analyse the results. You can begin to offer opinions and conclusions, but be sure subjective statements have some basis of support in the findings.

Limitations of the research: Discuss anticipated and unanticipated limitations of the research. Issues such as unexpected problems in data collection, too little time or resources to acquire a large enough data set and unforeseen difficulties that compromised the research should be discussed here.

Suggestions for further research: Make recommendations to the reader about what other avenues of inquiry might be useful, how these results could be expanded in a comparative study, how the results can be further tested in future research and so on.

Conclude the study in an upbeat explanation of what was found, the importance of the research and any final insight you want to share with the reader.

References

List each source cited in the report, and only those sources. The references should be in alphabetical order, consistent in format and follow APA style (don't depend on Endnote's ability to put references in APA style; leave enough time at the end to go through the reference list and confirm APA style as per chapter 4 of the APA Publication Manual). If a bibliography (relevant research examined but not cited in the report) is desired, it should be included separately as an appendix.

Appendices

Appendices are for supplemental material only. When considering what should be in an appendix ask yourself: If this appendix accidentally got lost, would it be a major problem? If the answer is yes, then include the content in the appropriate chapter. If the answer is no, then include it in an appendix, or not in the report at all.

Unless there is only one (the Appendix), appendices should be labeled with a capital letter (A, B, C) in the order in which they are mentioned in the text. All appendices must be clearly referred to at appropriate points in the main text.

At a macro level, the report should be well structured (e.g., follow the outline above, with everything in its proper place and not excessively verbose or abbreviated) and correctly formatted (e.g., margins, page breaks, fonts, paragraph sizes). Additionally, there should be satisfactory transitions between sections and chapters (e.g., at appropriate places tell the reader what is next and/or refer back to material presented earlier). Finally, there should be a clear and logical flow of ideas, paragraphs and sentences throughout the text.

At a micro level, there should be few or no misspelled words, correct and consistent capitalisation, proper grammar (e.g., verb/subject agreement, no mixed tense), limited and proper use of first and second person, no missing or extra words, correct punctuation and so on.

Because it is expected that the research report will have been through several drafts before submission, the final report should exhibit the highest standards of academic presentation.

Presentations

You are required not only to write out your research but also to present it personally to your peers and to faculty. This corresponds to writing a paper and presenting it at a conference. A key aspect of any academic research work is not only what you say, but saying it directly to your colleagues. In particular, you have to leave time for "Any questions?". As a result a significant part of this course is presenting to others on the course and taking their questions. If you are not able to participate in this learning process, you may not get a very good grade on this course.