There are many different types of assignments set at university and each type has its own structure and features.  It is not possible to cover them all here, but some examples include:

  • research essay
  • literature review
  • annotated bibliography
  • reflective journal
  • critical review or analytical review
  • case study
  • lab/practical or experiment write up
  • project report

It is always important to check with your lecturer or tutor as to what exactly they require you to do.  This table outlines the purpose, real life audience, tone of writing and structural features of some assignments. It will give you a start when you are trying to work out what style of writing you should try to produce.

Task  Purpose Audience Tone  Structure
Research essay
  • Answer a question
  • Present an argument based on facts
  • Peers
  • Academic community
  • Factual
  • Concise
  • Logical flow
  • Clear structure
  • Active voice
  • Intro
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Usually without headings
Lab/prac report
  • To explain what you did
  • To draw conclusions
  • Peers
  • Researchers wanting to replicate
  • Past tense
  • Step by step
  • Clear
  • Objective
  • Passive voice
  • Intro
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • (IMRD) – headings
Case study (report)
  • Examine a situation
  • Identify positives and negatives
  • Make recommendations
  • Professionals – not always academics
  • Politicians
  • Public
  • Factual
  • Authoritative
  • Concise
  • Easy to follow
  • Numbered headings
  • Table of contents
  • Executive summary
Review of an article
  • Evaluate or critique the data, research methods and results
  • Peers
  • Interested people in your profession
  • Analytical
  • Evaluative
  • Present tense
  • Active voice
  • No headings
  • Brief summary
  • Comment on quality of work
Literature review
  • Identify key ideas across literature
  • Understand current thinking
  • Find a ‘gap’ for research
  • Researchers
  • Academics
  • Fellow professionals
  • Formal
  • Objective
  • Tentative opinions based on text
  • Intro, body, conclusion without headings
  • Explanation of similarities and differences plus critical comment
Annotated bibliography
  • Identify key articles on a topic
  • Evaluate usefulness of articles in relation to topic
  • Inform others
  • Researchers
  • Academics
  • Fellow professionals
  • Formal
  • Objective
  • Title of work listed alphabetically by author
  • Indented 1-2 paragraph summary and critique in relation to topic
Reflective journal
  • Identify your understanding
  • Reflect on your thinking
  • Understand how and what you have learned
  • Yourself
  • Conversational
  • Thinking aloud
  • Can use “I”
  • Not necessarily formal, but still clear
  • Refers to text, lectures and practical situations
  • Links between formal learning and personal meaning
Project report
  • To report on work done or a plan for work to be done
  • Often for an outside organisation, such as an NGO or government
  • Factual
  • Past tense (for work completed)
  • Future tense for proposed work
  • Present tense to describe current situation
  • Title page
  • Acknowledgements
  • Executive summary or abstract
  • Table of contents
  • Intro and body (no heading)
  • Conclusion / recommendations
  • References or bibliography
  • Glossary
  • Appendices