Successful Academic Writing


Academic writing

book and pen imageReport writing versus essay writing

Most often, this choice won’t be down to you; your tutor will decide and lay it out in the assessment criteria. However, the further you go into your academic career, the more freedom of choice you will have, meaning the more you are going to have to engage in the decision of what is the most appropriate form of writing.

So, for your academic life, and for your working life, it’s important to be able to distinguish between a report and an essay, and to be able to understand why you might write one rather than the other.

Differences between a report and an essay

Report Essay
The topic based on reading and/or practical work
May be:
  • a problem
  • a case study
  • an experiment
based on reading and critical thinking
May be:
  • a question
  • a proposition
The purpose to investigate, present and analyse information

May be:
  • to make recommendations
to articulate a well-argued response

May be:
  • to persuade
The outcome
  • presentation of findings
  • may recommend action or change
  • conclusion drawn from evaluation or argument
  • may recommend action or change
The reader May be:
  • a lecturer
  • client
  • manager
  • lecturer
The format
  • sections with headings
  • headings numbered
  • sections may include headings
  • headings not numbered
The content
  • must include introduction, conclusion and references
  • may include recommendations
  • choice of other sections depends on purpose
  • must include introduction, conclusion and references
  • choice of other sections depends on structure of argument
The style
  • impersonal
  • objective
  • impersonal
  • can be subjunctive (based on evaluation)
Assessment Success depends on:
  • the demonstration of good research skills
  • the objective presentation and analysis of relevant information
Success depends on:
  • how well the proposition is established
  • how one point relates to the next

When choosing to write a report or an essay for your assignment you should understand these key differences.

• Purpose
Reports are the presentation, analysis of finding from research. They begin with an aim (to
investigate, to explore) and probably a hypothesis (a proposition that the research will test).
Depending on the guidelines or purpose, a report may make recommendations.
Essays begin with a question and seek to answer that question based on research into existing
theories and through the writer’s evaluation. An essay may include results of practical research but only in so far as it may help support the writer’s argument.

• Content
Reports are generally informative, reporting sequential events such as experiments or fixed results from surveys etc. However, they involve evaluation in the conclusion or recommendations sections.
Essays can be descriptive, discursive, evaluative, etc. This is dependent on the process given in the essay question. Content usually involves a synthesis of knowledge gained from existing texts and from the author's own opinions and argument.

• Format
The format of essays and reports is similar in that they will have introductions and conclusions, with the main content, findings, analysis etc. coming in between. They differ in the following ways:

  • The structure of a report is relatively fixed. The choice of sections will depend on the purpose of your report and, while studying, the preferences of your tutor or department.
  • In an essay, the thought process taken from the question will dictate the way the main body of the paper is to be structured.

When do you use a report?

A report is:

  • a way to convey the findings of research
  • a way to make recommendations based on research
  • used in business, government, science, engineering and others
  • (at university) a simulation of a real life situation
  • aimed towards a practical purpose

This means you should be, and will be, writing reports when you need to carry out a practical
investigation and report on your findings.

Read how to write a report next.