How should I structure my report or my essay?

Be aware of differences

The structure of your assignment will depend on what type of writing it is. Refer to QuickRef 6, Essay or Report? in Language and Learning Online for an introduction to the issue of the difference between essays and reports, as well as the section What is the difference between an essay and report?.

Reports

Reports have a formal structure with particular sections and are written with a specific purpose in mind, or with a particular focus. That given structure supports that purpose.

You will be required to use a particular report structure for your assignments according to discipline and task.

For guidance and examples of report structures, refer to the section When should I use headings? Also refer to report writing for an example of case study writing in Language and Learning Online. You will also find tutorials for and examples of report writing in writing for subject areas. Examples include

Check QuickRef 27 for guidance on the report structure for a case study.

Choose recommended resources from the Library that can also guide you in preparing reports in different disciplines.

Check your Unit Guide for information and guidance on what structure you are expected use. If you are unclear, check with your lecturer.

Share your reflections and examples in an email to iDEas@calt.monash.edu.au. Can you recommend a resource you found useful for report writing in your subject? What approach have you found useful in structuring your reports?

Essays

Essays are structured around an introduction, body and conclusion. Refer to QuickRef Writing essays for a useful diagram illustrating this structure.

In general, the structure of an essay is not as formalised as that of a report. You have more discretion about how you put your essay together, although you need to adhere to disciplinary expectations.

There is no one correct way to arrange the points you want to make in the body of the essay except that the text of the essay must flow coherently, from paragraph to paragraph. One way to check you have structured your essay with 'flow' is to produce a reverse outline. The main thing, however, that drives the structure of your essay is the argument you have indicated in your introduction. Ideally, the body of your essay should reflect the structure of your introduction.

You can see examples of the more formalised components of the essay, the introduction and the conclusion, in What does a good introduction look like? and What does a good conclusion look like?. Refer to outlining the essay's structure and outlining the essay's argument in Language and Learning Online for more on this.

A good essay structure will also ideally present an integrated discussion of all elements of the question posed in your assessment. See the sample essay in Language and Learning Online and check the associated tutorial on analysing structure.

Further guidance for essay structuring

  • Further examples of essays and how to prepare them are available in writing for subject areas in Language and Learning Online.
  • Choose recommended resources from the Library that can also guide you in preparing essays in different disciplines.
  • Join iDEas, a free email list designed to enhance off-campus learners' understanding of academic conventions. List members receive regular contributions on academic matters such as how to structure essays in different ways, using text organisers to conduct your analysis and develop your argument, and so on.