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.
|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|
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.
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.
Why the report was requested and by whom.
1.3 Sources of information
List interviews, laboratory procedure manuals consulted and so on.
2. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
2.1 Information available
A statement on the present situation.
3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
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
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.