As a private investigator, writing investigative reports is a critical piece of both the investigative and post-investigative processes. In many ways, these reports will form the backbone of what Private Investigators are hired to do. The reports Private Investigators write are read carefully by a number of parties, such as HR teams, senior business leadership, police, and possibly even the courts, and the findings and evidence they present are often used as the basis for future disciplinary and/or legal action. For these reasons, investigative reports must be done well. If you produce a high-quality investigative report, chances are you will be hired again. Do a poor or sloppy job and you will likely not be contracted again.
In this post, we will guide you on how to write expert investigative reports that achieve their purposes and function as testimonials to the quality of work that you do as a Private Investigator. We will explore what an investigative report is, the various elements of an investigative report, some tips on how to write an investigative report, and ways to improve your investigative report writing skills.
What is an investigative report?
An investigative report is a document that details the findings (evidence) related to a formal complaint or allegation, such as a workplace harassment complaint. 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.
Elements of an investigative report
Investigative reports can vary in size and scope depending on the type of allegation or complexity of a particular case. Lesser complaints of harassment that will result in basic disciplinary actions by an HR department generally require fewer elements than a larger, multi-faceted insurance fraud case destined for the court system. That said, in general, all reports will include some form of the following elements:
Generally, the very first element of an investigative report is the cover page or case summary page. In the private investigative context, this page should include a summary of all of the relevant case information in a concise and scannable format. Information that should appear on this page includes the case number, date, location of the incident, all relevant contact information, and any other relevant case reference information. For employee cases commissioned by a business, this would likely include things like the employee’s name, ID number, job code, email address, and any other identifying employee information required by the company.
The Executive Summary is the most important piece of an investigative report. It is also the most read. It should provide a complete, yet concise, picture of the particular complaint or allegation, the scope of the investigative activities, a summary of the findings, and a conclusion.
This summary should answer all of the main questions that a person or organization will have about a particular case, such as:
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- Where did the incident occur?
- When did it occur?
- How was the investigation conducted?
- What did the investigation find?
- Does the evidence support the complaint or allegation?
- What course of action is recommended?
The allegation summary is the place where you will go into the most detail about the specific complaint or allegation. It will include all of the specific details about what happened, who was involved, when it happened, what events led up to the incident, who witnessed it, etc.
Details of Investigation
This section of the report is where most of your documentation and detailed work will go in the report. Here you will carefully, concisely, and completely summarize every aspect of your investigation in an easy-to-follow, highly detailed, start-to-finish way. You will detail every aspect of your investigation (often in chronological order) and present key findings and evidence along the way. In many ways, this section of the report will function as a reference guide for each of the various summary documents in the report and will present the evidence in detail that led to your various conclusions or recommendations.
Conclusion & Recommendations
The conclusion is where you will wrap up your report with the key evidence that led you to your particular conclusion and the reasons why you believe the evidence either does or does not support the particular allegation or complaint. You will also provide any relevant assessments of an individual’s credibility, evaluations of the plausibility of the incident, and any other judgments that lead you to interpret the evidence the way that you did.
5 Tips for Writing a Successful Investigative Report
While the elements of a report are fairly straightforward, there are some best practices that you must adhere to if you want your reports to be most effective. These include:
1. Be clear and concise
The best way to convey your message is to avoid passive tense, jargon, acronyms, big words, long-winded explanations, and anything else that can clutter up your writing style. Write in a clear, easy-to-follow, straightforward style with minimal digressions and verbal clutter. Simply state things as they are without any frills.
2. Be detailed
Your job in the reporting process is to be extremely detailed. This means that you will consistently include names, dates, times, locations, specific quotes, and any other relevant facts in the report. Don’t simply say, “John saw Ali carrying the stolen files.” Rather, say something like, “John said he saw Ali leaving the west building and walking to the parking lot at approximately 9:15 p.m. on Friday night. She was carrying a large brown box with a white label on the side that said Financials.”
3. Be thorough
Double check your details and corroborate them with witnesses if possible. Sometimes it’s easy to take certain facts for granted. Part of your job in being accurate is to stress-test the various claims made during investigative interviews and flesh out the reasons why a person feels certain about their recollection of a particular detail or story.
4. Be inclusive of all evidence
Never omit facts that do not fit the narrative. Your report must cover everything, including the pesky facts that don’t seem to quite fit or may not appear immediately relevant. If you knowingly omit information or evidence from a report, it can result in serious personal or legal consequences for others and can lead you to develop a negative reputation within the investigative industry.
5. Be polished
Your writing must be free of grammatical mistakes, syntax issues, formatting issues, misspellings, and anything else that may call into question the quality of your report. If you’re not the most comfortable in this space, consider hiring a proofreader or editor to assist you in the creation of the report.
How to improve your investigative report writing skills
Many of the skills that private investigators need to perform their jobs are skills that can be taught. One of the best and fastest ways to learn these skills is through guided learning and instruction.
At NITA, we offer a variety of online courses to help private investigators improve their skills. Our Field Notes and Report Writing Course is a great way to learn the core components of how to write an investigative report, as well as developing an understanding of the importance of observation and memory in the investigative process. You will also review a number of investigative report examples and learn some additional best practices for writing reports.
Interested in learning more? At NITA, we provide a wide selection of online courses for private investigators. We offer courses for people just setting out on their PI certification journey and seasoned private investigators looking to continue their education or maintain their certification.
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