Investigative reports are written in order to provide the client with a detailed set of findings and represents, in writing, a statement of what the private investigator set out to accomplish, the factual findings of the investigator and a statement of conclusions drawn from the investigation. Organization, conciseness, clarity, and accuracy are the hallmarks of a good report. The written report will represent all relevant aspects of the investigation and be objective, accurate, understandable, logically organized, and timely. Reports should contain just facts and not the investigator’s opinion, unless he or she was specifically asked by the client to provide a written opinion based up a set of facts. Opinions are usually reserved for expert witnesses, scientists and the client.
The investigative report is the most important product a PI produces and it must be able to clearly explain to the reader of the report, in the investigator’s absence, what information the investigator was able to produce. The investigation report is also an integral part of marketing for private investigators. In fact, the investigative report is so important that 200+ page books have been written on the subject (when you include all of the basic rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation) which is not really appropriate for this particular course. I would urge you to learn more by picking up a book or two specifically about writing reports.
I am not going to belabor the topic any longer, but suffice it to say this: you will be judged by your clients by your ability to communicate well in writing. That means that at an absolute minimum you must use spell-check, not confuse the words your and you’re; to and too; they’re, their, and there; and have another set of trusted eyes proofread your reports for grammar and punctuation. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen great investigators lose client after client because they did not learn to write at a high school level. If you were not the best student in English class (and who among us was?), do yourself a favor and find someone to help edit your reports and learn from your mistakes. Practice makes perfect. Enough said about that.
The following are key considerations in writing a good report:
Conciseness: The investigator should remember that the best report tells the complete story in as few words as possible but using enough words to clearly convey a message.
Accuracy: The written report should clearly record or reference all pertinent interviews and observations. Information obtained during an investigation should be verified by as many sources as are necessary and reasonable to establish the validity of the information. Again, investigative reports should not contain personal opinions or views.
Style: The report should be written objectively in the first person or third person, which means that it should be written, “I observed a white female…” or “The investigator observed a white female…” Avoid the use of investigative jargon; instead use everyday language that your client would use in his or her conversation with you.
Format: All investigative reports should be typed with justified margins and the pages numbered in a manner such as “Page 1 of 5.” Regardless of the nature or subject of the report, each should at a minimum have the following parts:
- Introduction or Premise- What was the nature and scope of the assignment?
- Summary of the Investigation- A good summary is one that the client could read and understand exactly what substantiated the report without reading the entire report.
- Identification of the Subject- Fully describe the subject of the investigation; this is the person, place or thing that the report is about. If the subject is a person then full personal identifiers, if known, should be given that positively identify him or her. If it is a building or object then you should accurately describe its location, color, size, features, etc.
- Investigative Methods- This is a step by step detailed account of your investigation and should include where you went, when you went and how long it took you, who you talked to, what you did, how you did it and when you stopped your investigative activity.
- Conclusion or Results- What did you learn during the course of the investigation and what is the end product.
- Professional Close- this is where you thank the client, identify the investigator or investigators who contributed to the investigation and specify who ultimately wrote the report.
You might also find it necessary to include:
- Exhibits and Attachments- This would be where you include photographs, records, important video still-frames and other items, documents or accounts of evidence you collected during the investigation. All attachments should be labeled or numbered and referred to in the body of the investigative report. If the resulting digital document is very large, you can reduce the file size of your investigative report by compressing the images and make it easier to email or save.
- Witness or Contact List- It always helpful to maintain a list of people and their contact information with whom you spoke or had contact with during your investigation.
Lastly, consider the security of your finished investigative report! You don’t want to send an unprotected Microsoft Word (or other word processor) document to anyone… check out this important article on the “Security and Portability of your Investigative Reports” when you’re through here. Don’t learn the hard way, like many others, that investigation agency clients have been known to alter the final report if they are able.
There are a “million ways to Sunday” to produce a professional investigative report but organization, conciseness, clarity, and accuracy are the hallmarks of a good report and will keep clients coming back for more.
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