Usually your tutor will decide what form your writing should take and will lay it out in the assessment criteria. However, the further you go into your academic career, the more freedom of choice you will have. This means that you need to engage more in the decision of what is the most appropriate form of writing.
For your university life, and for your working life beyond, it’s important to be able to distinguish between a report and an essay, and to be able to understand why you might write one rather than the other.
When choosing to write a report or an essay for your assignment you should understand these key differences:
Reports are the presentation and analysis of findings from practical research. They begin with an aim (to investigate, to explore) and probably a hypothesis (a proposition that the research will test). Depending on the guidelines or purpose, a report may make recommendations.
Essays begin with a question and seek to answer that question based on research into existing theories and through the writer’s own evaluation. An essay may include results of practical research but only in so far as it may help support the writer’s conclusions.
Reports are generally descriptive, reporting sequential events (experiments or fixed results from surveys etc). However, they involve an evaluation in either the conclusion or recommendations sections.
Essays can be descriptive, discursive, evaluative, etc. This is dependent on the process given in the essay question. Content usually involves a synthesis of knowledge gained from existing texts and from the author's own opinions and argument.
Both essays and reports use an introduction and conclusion format. The main content, findings, analysis etc. come inbetween.
A report generally has a fixedstructure. The choice of sections will depend on the purpose of your report and, while at uni, the preferences of your tutor or department.
In an essay, the thought process taken from the question dictatesthe structure of the main body of an essay.