During my police career, writing reports was one of the most important aspects of an investigation; the wrong word or phrase could quite easily throw a case out of court. Be it a shoplifter one has arrested to a complex high-profile case – the investigation must be documented correctly and thoroughly, otherwise you run the risk of allowing a guilty party to be on the streets to commit more crime.
In recent months we have been involved in several investigations, all different in scope and complexity but all requiring a well-structured report of the findings. An investigative report details the findings (evidence) relating to a formal complaint or allegation. These reports are often commissioned immediately upon the receipt of a formal complaint, and they are generally used to establish whether an allegation is supported by the facts. Report writing is a critical part of the investigative and post-investigative work and the investigation process generally. Reports are the foundation of the investigation; they are the product the client hires us to produce. Although usually sensitive in content they are likely to be read by multiple parties of differing experience from HR teams to senior management and in certain circumstances the police and courts. So, investigative reports must be produced to a high standard. Reports will always vary to some degree depending on the client requirement and the circumstances involved. However, in general, most reports will include the following key sections:
- Cover Page: this should include a summary of all of the relevant case information. Include all the basics such as, date, location of the incident, all relevant contact information, and any other relevant case reference information
- The Exec-Summary: most important section of the report. It should provide a complete, and succinct picture of key points, including investigative activities, summary of the findings, and conclusion
- Investigation details: incudes the majority most of the detailed/background work. Carefully/concisely summarise every aspect of the investigation in an easy-to-follow, detailed, start-to-finish way, and present key findings and evidence. This section will function as a reference guide for each of the various summary documents in the report and will present the evidence in detail that leads to conclusions/recommendations -if the reader requires more information, they head to this section
- Conclusion and recommendations: wraps up the report with key evidence that leads to the conclusion and the reasons why the evidence does/doesn’t support the allegation or complaint and, if applicable, where you recommend new areas for future research
7 Tips for good report writing:
- Write clearly and concisely: avoid passive tense, jargon, acronyms, big words, long-winded explanations, and anything else that can clutter up the report. Eliminate ‘filler words’. Write in a clear/straightforward, easy-to-follow style
- Attention to detail: consistently include names, dates, times, locations, specific quotes, and all other relevant facts in the report
- Be thorough: double check everything and leave no stone unturned
- Include all evidence: never omit facts that do not fit the narrative. Cover everything, include all the facts even if they seem irrelevant, don’t omit anything it may come back to haunt you
- Polished product: be free of grammatical mistakes, formatting issues, and anything else that may call into question the quality of the report – always have the report proofread
- When writing technical reports, wherever possible try and write the report in non-technical format. It is easy for technical reports to go in real technical detail; however, you are in danger of losing the reader’s attention and you will not be able to get your findings across in a way you would like to.
- When writing a technical report, always get it peer-reviewed by a non-technical person within your organisation. If they can understand it, then there is a good chance other non-technical people will understand it also.