Successful Academic Writing
Report 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
|The topic||based on reading and/or practical work
|based on reading and critical thinking
|The purpose||to investigate, present and analyse information
|to articulate a well-argued response
|The reader||May be:
|Assessment||Success depends on:
||Success depends on:
When choosing to write a report or an essay for your assignment you should understand these key differences.
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.
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.
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.