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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Reports vs essays


Students are sometimes unclear about different genres of assessment tasks.

Students often ask the question "What is the difference between a report and an essay?" This short video explains what a report is in academic writing, how it is used in different situations, and the structure of a report including executive summary, introduction, findings and conclusion.

The table below shows the main differences between reports and essays.


  • Provides objective information: Can be constructed collaboratively.
  • Highly structured into sections identified using headings.
  • Sections can be read in isolation of the most of the text: the reader can dip in and out.
  • Objective report and analysis of facts.
  • Grounded in practice but often links to theory.
  • For a specific audience.
  • Includes tables, graphs and diagrams.
  • Dot points used for conciseness.


  • Presents a particular writer's claim or argument.
  • Structured by paragraphing with key points identified in topic sentences.
  • Paragraphs are read in the context of the whole: the reader starts at the beginning and reads the entire text.
  • Subjective argument or interpretation.
  • Grounded in theory but sometimes linked to practice.
  • For a generalised audience.
  • Meaning is conveyed through text.
  • Meaning constructed through sentences.