In my reading about undergraduate student assignments at my university, I have run across the word report quite a bit but the writer is not clearly talking about a research report (but the author might be, without me understanding that).

I'm used to thinking of student assignments as being either a research report (where the student must collect primary and secondary data) or an essay (where the student writes based on understanding without any actual data (though in an essay the student would often cite theories and the opinions of others).

Is there another meaning of the word report in the context of a university student assignment? Can students write reports only based on secondary data (is this a task commonly assigned)? Can someone write a report without data?

I'm wondering if a journalist's investigative report would count as a report using only secondary data (or perhaps not using data at all).

Any clarification would be of great help.

  • 1
    To answer the title question: No. There is absolutely no way to tell what sort of document a "Report" or "Research Report" or "Technical Report" is without actually reading the document. Standards vary across disciplines, across universities, and even within the same department.
    – JeffE
    Jun 26, 2013 at 19:19
  • @JeffE Thanks but I'm wondering if one would ever call a student assignment a report without it being a research report (are there other kinds of reports?).
    – earthling
    Jun 26, 2013 at 22:38
  • I don't know how to answer that question, because I don't know what a "research report" is. Does a literature survey count? Minutes of a classroom discussion? A written code review? A list of open problems? A white paper?
    – JeffE
    Jun 27, 2013 at 3:36
  • @JeffE One example of a research report is researching consumer preferences. For example, researching if customers would like to see more purple iPhones or are they happy with the existing choices of white and black. The research might be done through surveys/questionnaires/interviews (online or in person) and the results (along with the methodology, etc.) would be written up as a report. This would be a 'research report' because it is driven from primary research. The closest thing in your list would be a literature survey but even that would normally only be included as a literature review.
    – earthling
    Jun 27, 2013 at 7:40

1 Answer 1


As JeffE said, there are differences everywhere about which report is which - potentially confusing the issue.

Having said that, this resource from Purdue University "Purposes and Types of Reports which has further links to examples and guidelines. But, they do state:

•There is no universally agreed-upon format.

•You should follow the format for your course or your company.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .