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Assignment and library skills

Essay and report layout

Most assignments require either an essay or report. Essays and reports differ from one another in both their purpose and the information they contain. 

The table below describes the differences between essays and reports. 

 Essays  Reports
 Present arguments and/or issues  Present information
 Read carefully by your teacher/tutor  Can be scanned quickly by the reader
 Use limited headings and/or lists  Use numbered headings and sub headings
 Link ideas into paragraphs  Use dot points to emphasise points
 Make limited use of tables, graphs and illustrations  Tables and graphs illustrate points more clearly
 Abstracts are only required if essays are very long and   one has been requested by your teacher/tutor  May require an executive summary or abstract
 Seldom have recommendations  Recommendations often follow the conclusions in order to   correct problems or situations discussed in the report
 Seldom contain appendices  Contain appendices

Essay writing

While there are some basic steps for writing an essay, it is not always a straight forward process. You might like to work through the different stages a number of times. You may need to return to your reading and notetaking as you realise you are missing pieces of information. 


General layout and presentation of an essay

The essay is generally organised into three broad sections - introduction, body, conclusion. 


The introduction for the essay provides an overview of your assignment question and the arguments that you will make in this essay to answer it. The introduction captures the reader's interest and prepares the reader for what is to come The introduction is usually one paragraph in length.


The body of the essay uses ideas set out in the introduction, and expands on them to convince the reader of the argument or position of the author. The body is the largest section of the essay, with a number of paragraphs outlining a number of ideas or arguments related to the assignment question. 

You should focus on one idea or argument in each paragraph. Each paragraph should logically follow on from the one that precedes it to make sure that the essay is presenting a clear and connected argument throughout. Paragraphs should be at least three sentences in length (mirroring the introduction, body and conclusion of an essay). 


The conclusion bring together the ideas for the body of the assignment. It will sum up you ideas/arguments so the reader can understand in full the final position you are taking. The conclusion is only restating arguments that have been mad, and should not introduce new ideas or facts.   

Your teacher will instruct you on margins, spacing, font and paragraph formatting for your assignments.

Report writing

A report provides an account of research or an investigation. It clearly describes, in logical sequence the steps that have been followed. Reports can be any length and can be:

  • Informational - contain facts/figures, e.g. sales, production or accident reports.
  • Analytical - written to solve problems/situations, contain recommendations.

Report structures include numbered sections and have:

  • Major headings in upper case letters. They can be underlined.
  • Minor headings indented from the left margin and in lower case letters. They can be underlined also.

These headings distinguish major ideas from minor ones, help to organise your material and enable you to maintain a consistent layout throughout the report.

Remember: Write your report to get your message across - above all, your report should provide a clear and concise analysis of the work undertaken with no unfinished work apparent.

Example of a report format:

Cover page(Name of the report, your name, date, course name/no.)

Executive summary or abstract: short summary of the report containing all the most important information such as the purpose, methods, findings, any recommendations and conclusion. Write this summary after you have finished the rest of the report.

Table of contents: list of all headings and corresponding page numbers in the report

Body of report:
1. INTRODUCTION (an example of a major heading)

1.1 Aim of the report (an example of a minor heading)
Describe the aim or scope of the report.
1.2 Authorisation
Why the report was requested and by whom.
1.3 Sources of information
List interviews, laboratory procedure manuals consulted and so on.


2.1 Information available
A statement on the present situation.


3.1 Summary of data
3.2 Explanation of tables and graphs
3.3 Analysis of data
3.4 Observation of results

State what the results have proved or suggested. Do not introduce any new information at this stage of the report.

5. RECOMMENDATIONS (if required)
It is recommended that: (action to be/not to be taken, or a choice can/cannot be made)

5.1 First recommendation
5.2 Second recommendation

Examples: Glossary, Survey results

Bibliography/Reference List

An essay usually consists of an introduction, the body, a conclusion and a reference list or bibliography. The assignment question will contain instruction or direction words.

Helpful Tips

  • Use plain English: use familiar words rather than foreign phrases or scientific jargon.
  • Don't use slang – try a dictionary or thesaurus to find a better word or term.
  • Don’t use abbreviations such as “Aust”, “Qld”, “don’t” and “&” in essays.
  • Be precise: use enough words to achieve clarity but avoid unnecessary words that can distract from the main point
  • Acronyms: write the full name followed by the acronym in brackets, e.g. Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE). “DETE” can then be used throughout the rest of the essay.
  • Word length – stay on target to avoid writing too much or too little.
  • You must include in-text referencing within the body of the assignment.
  • The reference list, works cited list, or bibliography must be included at the end of the essay. Your teacher will determine which list is appropriate for your assignment.
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