What’s the difference between reports and essays?

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A table outlining features of essays and reports in relation to one another.


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This information/resource was last updated in March 2022.

This post was originally added to LearnHigher on: January 15, 2012

About this resource

A report is a piece of informative writing that describes a set of actions and analyses any results in response to a specific brief. A quick definition might be: “This is what I did and this is what it means.”

You may also have assignments which are not called reports but which are still pieces of informative writing; for instance, some dissertations and project write-ups fall into this category.

A good way to understand the key features of reports is to see how they differ from essays as a type of academic writing.

Reports are… Essays are…
  • Formally structured
  • Informative and fact-based
  • Written with a specific purpose and reader in mind
  • Written in a style appropriate to each section
  • Always include section headings
  • Sometimes use bullet points
  • Often include tables or graphs
  • Offer recommendations for action
  • Semi-structured
  • Argumentative and idea-based
  • Not written with a specific reader in mind
  • Written in single narrative style throughout
  • Usually do not include sub-headings
  • Usually do not include bullet points
  • Rarely include tables or graphs
  • Offer conclusions about a question


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