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The University of Southampton
English for EngineersUnderstanding assessed tasks

Report Writing

Reports are a way of sharing information. They are a common form of assessment on engineering programmes, and you may also need to write them in your future career whether that’s in research or industry.

Image of students
Reports communicate your findings

Comparing Reports and Essays

Students often ask what the difference is between an essay and a report.

Two key ways in which reports and essays differ are:

1) their purpose.

Reports are a way of sharing a result, solution or recommendation and explaining why this information is needed and how it was found. Reports are therefore more likely to include figures and tables to support technical explanations, descriptions of experimental set-ups or results. In contrast, an essay presents arguments to reach a conclusion.

2) the way in which they are intended to be read.

A report is structured so that the reader does not need to read the whole document. The abstract summarises the report, and headings and numbering allow the reader to dip in and out of sections. In contrast, although an essay introduction and conclusion give a very good indication of the author’s answer to the question, an essay is generally written to be read in its entirety.

These differences are reflected in the titles. A report title will often be one of the last parts to be finalised because it is a very condensed summary of the report. An essay title, on the other hand, is normally given at the outset, and students are assessed on their ability to respond to that given question.

Identifying your audience

Before you start writing a report, you need to think carefully about who you are writing for, your audience, and why you are writing, your purpose.

These are important because they affect the language you use, the information you include and how you organise it, and the visuals you choose to support the text.

Supporting your text

Clarity, appropriacy and accuracy are not solely language issues. They are equally relevant to tables and figures you use to support your writing.
Dr Kate Parks explains how to present data for consultancy reports and scientific papers: here

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