Best Practices for Effective Bug Reporting in Software Testing

QA engineer writing a bug report

When it comes to software testing, identifying an issue is important, but reporting it is just as, if not more important. Reporting defects is also a crucial step in software development. It allows the engineer and those impacted by the issue to communicate, explaining what went wrong, why it happened, and how to fix it. Unfortunately, many software testers don't have the skills required to write a bug report correctly.

The following article will help you become an expert at creating successful bug reports by giving you recommended techniques. Let’s start with the fundamentals.

What is a bug report?

A bug report is a documented record of a software defect or issue. It is used to inform developers about problems within the software so they can address and resolve them. 

There are various reasons why software defects may occur. One of the most common reasons is that modern software is incredibly complex, complicated, and feature-rich. Another reason is that developers are often working on several projects at once, which means that defects are bound to slip through. 

A well-written and structured bug report helps developers quickly understand and fix the issue, improving the overall quality of the software and accelerating the time to market. When writing a bug report, start off by asking yourself what you want to communicate to the developer.

The bug report should answer the following questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • How can the developer reproduce the issue (so they will be able to confirm it)?
  • Which area or feature within the software is the issue found?
  • On which browser, device, and operating system has the issue appeared?

Advantages of a well-written bug report

A well-written bug report has many advantages. It:

  • offers a detailed investigation of bugs.
  • increases the bug's visibility and aids in determining the best course of action for troubleshooting.
  • helps with early debugging, saving time and money.
  • keeps bugs out of production and away from interfering with end users’ experiences.
  • serves as a guide to assist in preventing the same bug in upcoming releases.
  • informs all parties involved about the bug and simplifies their implementation of corrective actions.

What makes a bug report effective? 

Software tester sitting at a desk preparing a bug report

As a software tester, you should constantly work to enhance and refine your descriptive abilities. The more precise you are with your descriptions, the easier it is for development teams to locate, debug, and resolve issues quickly. To increase effectiveness, you should always strive to follow these best practices when preparing your bug reports.

1. Use a brief and concise title

Write a clear and concise title for your bug report so that developers and testers can quickly understand the nature of the issue without reading the entire report. Having a concise title also helps when searching for specific reports in bug-tracking systems, like Jira. Additionally, it prevents misunderstandings and follow-up clarifications, saving time and streamlining the bug resolution process.

Typically, the title should answer the question: "What and where is the problem?" Write an easy-to-read title, but if it helps, remember to mention the action you performed that led to the issue.

Example of a bad bug report title: 

  • Title: Site not functioning

Even if it's brief, the title above doesn't give enough details. How is the website broken? Is it broken for certain users but not for others? Where is the problem—in the front end or back end of the system? Is it only not functioning on a particular device or browser?

Example of a good bug report title:

  • Title: Throwing an error while logging in as User01 - Chrome only

2. Write a clear and detailed description

A brief explanation of the issue is necessary before delving into how to reproduce it, as this will give the developer important context and enable them to identify the issue more quickly. Since we always assume that the person reading our report has never seen this particular aspect of the feature or task before, they should be able to follow up with our explanation with ease.

Consider who else might view your bug report as well. Not only are project managers and fellow testers involved, but developers as well—who may not have previously viewed the work. Just like your title, your description should not be an essay but rather should provide the essential details that shed light on the situation, such as what browser to use and what environment to use.

Example of a bad description: 

  • Description: Viewing a screen error.

Example of a good description: 

  • Description: Selecting the create new documents icon in the content explorer in the admin as Tester1 on the QA environment is causing an error message stating, "Cannot read the content." It appears that this does not affect the other admin actions.

3. Define each step required to reproduce

Give precise step-by-step instructions on how to reproduce the issue so that everyone can easily see what you did to identify the issue and reproduce the issue on their own. The outcomes, both expected and actual, have to be included in this part together with any relevant links.

This may appear excessive, but occasionally we overlook requirements that the reader is unaware of for whatever reason, such as being signed in as a specific user, and that could be crucial to the problem. Although certain details may appear evident to developers, keep in mind that someone else from the team may need to review the work or take up the ticket at a later time. In such cases, they will need to quickly determine where to begin and what needs to be done.

Example of a bad description of steps to reproduce:

  • Start the page browser
  • Expected: Produce documentation. I'm not able to produce docs.

Example of a good description of steps to reproduce:

  • Proceed to and log in as Tester1
  • After the page loads, choose “Content Explorer”
  • Click "Add Picture"
  • Choose “Cancel”
  • Choose "Create documents"
  • Expected result: The user can access the appropriate fields when the create document window displays
  • Actual result: An error warning displays and no create document window opens when you pick "Create documents" 
  • Note: As seen in the screenshot, the error message reads, "Cannot load content". This only affects the Tester1 specifically if you try to create a document when uploading an image. Additional admin features work exactly as expected.

4. Provide visual evidence

Make sure you add any visual evidence that could help developers better understand the issue and how to reproduce it. For instance, screenshots are a great way to demonstrate what you have observed, as mentioned in the steps section above. But once more, these must be important and, if required, referenced to provide additional explanation; otherwise, they risk being completely insignificant. 

If you have looked for problems in the console, share log files as well. This can help you identify exactly where on the website or application the issue occurred. A video is also helpful in situations where a screenshot isn't able to capture the action. This can be quite helpful in situations involving JavaScript front-end problems, such as those requiring reproduction of actions that are not possible to display in a still image.

5. Put a level of severity on the label

Bug reports can be grouped based on how serious the issue is. It is crucial for testers to indicate how severe the issue is and its impact, considering the business's value. Front-end problems, such as a button that is not aligned, will, for example, be of lower priority than, say, a 500 error that occurs during the submission of a form. Functionality-related problems should normally be given more priority than styling-specific ones, and serious problems, such as the complete failure of the website or the complete inability to use its essential features, are supposed to be given critical status.

Icon position, for example, could be given a higher priority than "low" if its placement interferes with visitors' ability to complete a crucial task on the website. An issue with a call to action to finish a transaction not working, for instance, could cause businesses to lose out on revenue. As a result, it would probably be classified as having a high severity. To be able to make these kinds of decisions effectively, however, business understanding is necessary.

Additional things to consider

There are some additional factors to consider when preparing a bug report:

Classifying the issue 

You should consider classifying the kind of issue in your bug report in addition to its severity. Besides design and functionality difficulties already discussed, there are numerous other challenges as well, including server, regression, performance, validation, and configuration problems. This classification can help in the investigation and resolution of the problem.

Assigning the bug report to the right person 

Make sure you assign the bug report to the correct person. The project will determine who this is, but as part of your project development process, this should have been established and approved in advance.

Providing more information 

Adding more information can be quite helpful too, like sharing links to earlier tickets that might be relevant to the current issue.

Extra tips for writing an effective bug report

Software tester writing some notes on a transparent board with a marker

Report the issue right now

You don’t have to wait to file a detailed bug report later if you discover any issues during testing. Instead, start writing a bug report right away. This will ensure successful bug reporting. You run a greater risk of overlooking essential elements in your report if you choose to file a bug report later.

Before submitting a bug report, reproduce the issue several times

It should be possible to replicate your bug. Make sure your instructions are clear enough to reproduce the bug. You can still report a bug indicating that it occurs periodically even if it is not repeatable every time.

Check for the same bug on more modules that are comparable

The same code may occasionally be used by the developer for several related modules. Therefore, there is a higher probability that a bug in a particular module may also affect other similar modules. You may even attempt to locate the more serious variety of the defect you discovered.

Before pressing the ‘submit’ button, reread the bug report

Go over everything you have written in the bug report. Check for any sentences that can be interpreted incorrectly due to ambiguity. A concise bug report should not contain any misleading words or sentences.

Be professional when reporting bugs

Although it's great that you worked hard and discovered an issue, please do not take the opportunity to criticize the developer or target any specific person when reporting bugs. Always be professional.

The bottom line

Identifying and clarifying issues is the foundation of an effective bug report, and investing the time and effort to do so benefits all parties. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, and every team has its own set of procedures, you can't go wrong as long as you include the essential elements: a clear title, a detailed description, steps to reproduce, supportive evidence, and severity rating. Also, always think about who will be reading your bug report. Keep in mind that a well-written bug report will help ensure a rapid and cost-effective project timeline, while development teams will be able to quickly identify and resolve bugs.

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