Skip to Main Content

Reports: Reports Purpose

What are Reports?

Reports are systematic, well-organised and structured documents that define and analyse a subject or problem in a methodical manner with a clear purpose. They are typically used to present the results of a piece of work such as a project, experiment, or investigation in a logical way. There are different types of reports that will have varying formats, writing conventions and structures depending on your discipline, including business reports, scientific reports, case study reports, and research reports.


Reports present information in a different way from an essay. Whilst essays are generally quite fluid in terms of structure, enabling the author to develop a discussion or build an argument through a series of paragraphs, a report will be highly structured and formal. Unlike essays, section headings and subheadings are used to ‘scaffold’ reports, each with a clear function depending on the overall purpose of the report.  


It is important to check whether you are being asked to produce a report or an essay for a written assignment so that you present the information in the correct format. You can find further information on different assessment types here: Assessment Types.

Report Essay 
Reports are formal in structure and based on a particular project or study.  The structure is less formal and based on a particular subject which is often discussed in a broader disciplinary context.
Reports are used to present the results of a particular project or piece of work set out in a logical and systematic way. They are factual and informative, drawing conclusions which give rise to recommendations. Essays will discuss and develop points of view or arguments around the essay subject through a fluid series of paragraphs.
Reports often include elements of independent firsthand enquiry and primary research as well as secondary literature.  Essays are generally based on secondary literature rather than primary research, although they may draw on your own experience (eg. case studies, practice experience for reflective essays).
Reports have clearly defined section headings and might also have subheadings. These are usually numbered. The most common sections are:
  • Introduction 
  • Methodology/Methods
  • Results 
  • Discussion
Essays are unlikely to have section headings, subheadings, or numbering.
Reports may contain bullet points or lists to present information concisely. Essays rarely contain bullet points or lists – content must be written in continuous paragraphs.
Reports often use graphics such as tables, graphs, charts and diagrams to present information and analysis of data concisely. Essays may contain illustrations but are less likely to contain infographics.
Reports will start with an executive summary or abstract which comes before the introduction. This will normally present the key recommendations arising from the report. Essays start with an introduction and will not usually have an abstract or executive summary.


Further Reading