What is the difference between a report and an essay?

What is the difference between a report and an essay? Good question! If I had a pound every time a student had asked me that question I’d be a rich man!

There are important differences in format (the way they are laid out) but the most important thing to realise is the difference in purpose: a report is to inform the reader and make recommendations and an essay is an academic exercise.

A report is divided into different parts and sections with headings. There may be numbered parts with headings and subheadings, parts labelled A, B, C and so on.Reports are very common in everyday life. You see them in businesses all the time.


There are different types of reports. There are academic reports which are like journal articles. There are laboratory reports that scientists write. There are business reports which don’t have the same parts as an academic report.


Reports are often on practical issues. For example: A report into the impact of the tuition fee increase on student applications to university.


The aim of a report is often to make recommendations for action or to find out and present facts.

An essay  Usually there is only the title at the top of the essay and no other headings or subheadings. Just lots of writing with paragraphs breaks.An essay is an academic piece of work and you usually don’t see essays outside college or university.


Essays are usually on very academic topics, not practical issues.


Essays are more common in Arts and Humanities subjects such as English and History.


The aim of an essay is to discuss, explore and show the reader that you can present and evaluate arguments.






Look at my example academic essay on the death penalty here.

Look at a real report on the Impact of Universities on the UK Economy here.

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