Bureaucracy is something that for a relatively large proportion of the population is more of a headache. But although it is little appreciated, the truth is that it is often necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the system and the monitoring of a process with the maximum possible guarantees.

Within this area we often find various types of documents, which can sometimes be confused with each other . Among them we can find some that are not only applied at an administrative level, but also in areas such as academia.

For example, many people have had to make a report at some point, or have had to wait for an opinion to be confirmed or to receive a certificate in order to be able to practice or obtain a certain service or good. But what is the difference between these types of documents? What are they and what are the differences between certificate, report and opinion? Let’s see it throughout this article.

Certificate, report and opinion: what are they?

Before we start talking about the differences between certificate, report and opinion, it may be consistent and necessary to make a brief description or explanation of what each one is.

It is called a certificate of a type of document which is issued for the purpose of attesting or recording a particular fact, in a purely descriptive manner . To be valid, it must have been produced and signed by a technician or an authority competent in the matter of which it is recorded.

A typical example of this type of document can be found in the certificates of study or the certificate of occupancy of the houses.

The report is probably the most frequently produced type of document , as it is often the basis from which some course of action can be taken.

It is a type of document that is characterized by presenting in a more or less detailed manner the event or elements that are observed and the circumstances surrounding them in an objective and empirically focused manner, without admitting any type of interpretation. An example can be found in the reports that are made when there is some type of traffic accident, with respect to both the accident and the state of the vehicles and people.

With regard to the opinion, this is a type of document in which, based on the data involved in a situation (generally from a report), the situation itself is evaluated and analysed with the aim of making some kind of determination in this regard , to guide some intervention or action or simply to reach a conclusion as to what has happened. In this case, the opinion or assessment of the professional who carried it out comes into play, who should be expert personnel in the subject matter to be evaluated.

As an example we can find cases of rulings in any judicial process in which a sentence is reached, or in the selection of a certain treatment for a patient in the hospital or psychological/psychiatric context.

As can be seen, the three concepts explained so far coincide in the fact that they are very useful documents and that are often used together .

Moreover, all of them can be applied to a large number of fields, from education or academia (is a person fit/not fit?), construction (is this house habitable?), medicine or psychology (what happens to him?, do the symptoms correspond to X disorder?, what type of intervention should be applied?) to the strictly administrative fields (permits, regulations, applications…). But, as can already be seen in the definitions themselves, they are not identical.

Differences between these document types

Opinion, report and certificate are documents that in substance have certain similarities and are often closely related. However, they are far from being the same type of document and each of them has characteristics that distinguish it from the others . In this regard, we highlight below the four main differences between certificate, report and opinion.

1. Objective pursued

Perhaps the main and most important difference between opinion, certificate and report lies in the fact that these three types of documents are made with different purposes and objectives .

In this sense, a report is made with the purpose of exposing and explaining a certain situation or aspect of reality, without pretending to include indications or assessments (although the objective of its realization may actually be to end up doing this).

An opinion is drawn up when existing information on a certain issue or situation needs to be assessed, in order to provide some guideline for action, recommendation or solution regarding the situation itself or how to proceed.

Finally, the certificate is a document that is issued only as an acknowledgement of the result of an assessment carried out previously, giving an account and communicating the conclusion or decision determined in this respect.

2. Explain vs. evaluate

Another of the great differences between certificate, report and opinion can be found in the type of text and the work and treatment given to the information they provide.

While a report is an expository text in which the information provided is objective and does not contain any interpretation or subjectivity, the opinion includes, in addition to the explanation of the situation, a component of assessment and decision regarding what to do with the information.

In this way, the opinion incorporates a certain subjectivity into the content, as the data are interpreted to generate a conclusion.

Finally, with regard to the certificate, although its content refers to the final conclusion that has been obtained through a process of analysis with the possibility that there are or are not biases and subjectivities, we are dealing with a document whose content is limited to describing the conclusion or result itself. Thus, the certificate does not imply an act of assessment but rather reflects the assessment made previously.

3. Order

In addition to the above differences, it should also be noted that these documents are generally interrelated and the previous one is often required to produce the next one .

In this sense, the first of the documents that will be necessary will be the report in order to explore what has happened or what is being worked on, obtaining data in an objective and detailed manner. Only then will it be possible to make the assessment that allows the creation of the report, which will use these data to analyze and interpret the information and finally make a decision.

And it will be on the basis of this opinion that we will be able to draw up a certificate that will give faith or record the decision taken with regard to what is being analysed.

4. Attention to detail and conciseness

A last but not least important differentiating element between the three types of documents cited is, beyond their objectivity/subjectivity or what each of them pursues, the level of detail and precision of the data they include .

While the certificate is generally a concise and precise document but pays little attention to detail and provides little information about what situation it assesses and the circumstances surrounding it, the opinion is much more explicit and detailed but nevertheless less concise and closed than the previous one , as it gives an account of the assessment made with regard to the data obtained from the report.

Finally, the report, together with the opinion, provides the greatest level of detail with regard to the situation it sets out and narrates, but since it focuses on the mere explanation it does not lead to a conclusion, being more open.

Bibliographic references:

  • Lannon, J. (2007). Technical Communication. Longman.
  • Royal Spanish Academy. (2018). Dictionary of the Spanish language.