What’s the difference between an essay, a report and a story?
I see this question a lot from people in secondary school, Further Education colleges, and even University students! I’m talking about UK students, I believe elsewhere they teach the difference quite early on. When I was in school – back in the 1970s and 80s, the English teacher would set an essay writing task – what she meant was – write a story. So I never learnt until late adulthood what the difference is. I’m not an academic, so this is going to be basic…
A very brief run-through of the differences.
First off, they’re written in different styles. Essays and Reports tend to be written in a formal, academic style with attention to grammar and spelling. While a story is a sequence of real or, most commonly, fictional events told in any manner that the author chooses.
A report is a summary of an event and an essay explores a particular issue or subject. Both start with an introduction, body with discussions and/or analysis, and finally a conclusion. The main difference is purpose; an essay presents writer’s personal ideas and opinions, a report provides unbiased information.
Basic lexicon of related words –
Essay: describes, analyses, evaluates, combination of facts, statistics, personal opinions, descriptive, narrative, argumentative, persuasive, and expository.
Report: systematic, well organised, defines, analyses, provides information, sections, headings, and sub-headings.
Story: narrative, novel, short story, novella, plot, characters, genre specific, entertaining, aesthetic, creative, tale, chronicle, dramatic.
See the same event in these three examples below:-
Story Extract –
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction
‘We came to a narrow tributary of the Amazon River, about eight feet across, dotted with floating islands, clumps of debris washed downhill with the rains. Raising our packs above our heads we waded. Something glided just beneath the surface; I halted so as not to draw its attention, Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh. Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches, creaks and croaks resounded all about. We crossed three more tributaries before the end of day.
Exhausted and soaked in foul smelling swamp water. With the fauna of the forest reduced in our wake by; four stabbed snakes, a shot river dolphin, two blasted parrots, an incapacitated capybara, an assaulted alligator, numerous leeches burnt and a frog that popped when Daniel stepped on it, behind us, it was time to take it easy.
On (relatively) dry land, we made camp for the night. Whilst I cleaned my blades and blasters, Doppler did whatever one did to bright blue frogs to coax some venom from them, Daniel made
tea; and jolly good it was too,
“You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” Says I with a wry smile.’
Essay version –
Although not mentioned within the body of this particular extract, we can glean the narrator’s name from the title of the book. Lucy Lockhart, renowned treasure hunter, and her assistant, Theodora Doppler have arrived in the Amazonian jungle with cartographer, Daniel.
They cross a series of tributaries en route to their destination. Lockhart describes the area as being difficult terrain that the party need to wade through, with unknown things gliding beneath the surface of the water, small islands of earth, and animals in the surrounding environs. Daniel – whom Lockhart has previously described as ‘a lily-livered clerk’, is evidently extremely uncomfortable in this environment. The party have during their progress, killed or maimed a number of animals, including a river dolphin. Although this is a short section from a longer tale, one could surmise that this is not an unusual situation, for at least one of these characters, to be in. They are kitted out for travelling; otherwise, mention would be made of the inconvenience of attire in the circumstances. No-one in the party truly complains, or seems surprised by the ‘foreignness’ of the situation – the names suggest that these are all English characters.
One might argue that Lockhart has a blasé attitude to her comrades as well as the flora and fauna hereabouts. She does not speak of the beauty of her surroundings, only the death left in her wake. It could also be said that she has an Imperialistic indifference to animals and people. The party eventually find some dry-ish land to rest and recuperate on. The cartographer is once again the butt of Lockhart’s teasing, as he makes tea for the party.
In conclusion, one could surmise that the narrator; Lockhart, is if not enjoying the situation, relishing the discomfort of one companion; Daniel. We get the impression that she is unconcerned for the welfare of wildlife and this does not sit well with a modern audience. She is, however, determined, skilled with weapons, so capable of looking after herself and has a sense of humour.
Report version –
A trio of adventurers are on some sort of quest in the Amazonian jungle. From this extract, we cannot determine what it is they seek, nor how long they have been here. We do know that they cross a number of tributaries on their journey, so the terrain is not easily navigable. We have no way of knowing how the characters are related, nor what their relationships are like. The main character; the narrator, refers to one by her surname; Doppler and the other by his first name, Daniel. This might suggest that the relationship between the two women is stronger than that with the male, as females rarely refer to themselves or each other by surname.
Though unnamed in this extract, Lucy Lockhart is the narrator, the protagonist of this adventure. She is clearly the leader of the party, as the other two characters follow her, and she is skilled in using various weapons – as evidenced by the killing and maiming of a number of creatures – some of which we might assume she has dispatched herself. At the end of the passage, the narrator is cleaning her blades. This tells us that she carries a number of knives, or swords, about her person. Her description of the animal slaughter – ‘stabbed’, ‘blasted’, ‘incapacitated’, ‘assaulted’, suggests a level of humour on her part at the demise of such creatures. The fact that she likes to tease Daniel, the cartographer, also gives us a small insight into her personality – which leads one to question the agreeableness of this character.
The party reach a tributary in the Amazon River – a tributary is a river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake. We know that it is eight feet wide and is ‘dotted with islands’. There has been a heavy rain at some point in the near past, as we are told that there is debris from uphill. The Amazon contains a wide variety of animals including capybara, parrots, alligators and snakes, among other things. There are also unseen creatures living in the trees, as evidenced by, ‘Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches,’ Even though this is a tributary of the main river, we know that it is fairly deep, as the party must carry their belongings over their heads to prevent equipment from getting wet.
There is little mention of this character in the passage. What we can glean is that she is intrepid – otherwise she would not be on such a venture, and she is skilled in poisons. At the end of the passage, she is trying to extract poison from small frogs. From this, we might conclude that she A) knows about animal poisons, and B) has used poisons in the past. One might further conjecture that this tells us that Doppler is either a medic, a collector, or quite simply – a poisoner.
There is very little information about this character; however, we can speculate that he is not comfortable in this environment. He is probably frightened of the wildlife, ‘Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh.’ He also makes a good cup of tea; Lockhart comments on it, whilst simultaneously taking a sideways swipe at his manhood.
We might conclude from this extract that the tale is not set in the present day. The narrator carries bladed weapons and at least one gun, which she refers to as ‘blades and blasters.’ This is not parlance from the 21st century, neither is ‘Says I…’ The narrator is clearly sexist from a contemporary reader’s point of view, otherwise she would not use the phrase “You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” In our 21st century society, there is little issue with stay-at-home husbands. In addition, the narrator’s attitude towards killing animals is not commendable, from a modern standpoint. We do not condone the careless destruction of wildlife to suit our own means, and none of the characters seems disconcerted at their demise.
I hope this has been of some use, to someone, somewhere.