Part of university coursework is the preparation of written reports and essays. Students may often be confused with the two terms, using one word but referring to another item. Interchanging these two terms – reports and essays – is quite probable, and this situation is not entirely favourable for students.
Interchanging the terms reports and essays may mean completing a coursework task but still not being able to meet the tutor’s specified requirements. To avoid this, students need to know the difference between a report and an essay. The basic differences between the two are as follows:
- The topic or subject matter
For reports, the topic is usually a case study or a problem that supposes a hypothetical situation. A report is more specific as compared to an essay. A report is often based on a combination of extensive research and field work.
The essay on the other hand, is usually written to answer a question. Essays usually deal with issues that are more general in scope. It is also based on a lot of research and at times, field work.
- The author’s stance
For reports, the author has a main point that is not presented as an argument but rather as a hypothesis.
Authors writing an essay usually try to prove the hypothesis of the essay through arguments and supporting data.
- The data
Quantitative or qualitative data provide support for the main hypothesis in a report. The data is collected through primary research such as interviewing experts, lab work, or field work. Nothing personally related to the author is included such as his opinion or his experiences.
Information from a wide variety of sources – the author’s personal experience and research, among others – may be included. The author’s arguments are supported with evidence gathered from these sources.
- The audience or reader
Written reports usually cater to a specific group of people for which the report is written. The essay, on the other hand, is not specialised at all. Any group of readers may read an essay. In the case of students, however, the main audience for the essay submitted as a coursework task is the tutor.
- The purpose
Reports are written to provide a solution to a problem or to make a proposal, whereas essays are written to answer a question, inform readers, or to persuade them of the author’s point of view regarding the subject matter.
- The structure
A report usually includes section headings or subheadings. An essay on the other hand, is simply made up of a series of paragraphs without any headings at all.