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Essay and report writing skills
Essay and report writing skills

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4 Understanding the task

4.1 Writing requirements

Being a successful writer in one area doesn't always make it easy to know what is required in another. Here are some general questions that you can ask to help define the requirements for particular pieces of writing:

  • What will my tutor be expecting? (this is sometimes phrased as ‘think about the audience’)

  • What is the most appropriate format: report or essay? Do I have a choice, or is it stipulated in any guidance notes I've been given?

  • What is the question asking?

  • Is the aim to inform, to analyse or to recommend – or perhaps something else?

  • Is there a recommended length?

  • Is there advice about how to distribute the word allocation between sections?

  • Is a formal style required (‘it could be argued …’) or a more personal tone (‘I think…’)?

Your answers to these questions will depend on the type of assignment you are being asked to write and the advice or guidance given for that assignment, or for the course more generally. Your tutor will be able to help if you are unsure.

We will concentrate on two forms here, the report and the essay.