The Secret To Good Report Writing
by John Bowden
What is the secret to good report writing?  The answer is twofold; organization
and clarity.  If you follow these two principals, it will go a long way towards a
great report.  A major problem for a lot of report writers is organization, not
writing the report in chronological order.  The problem with chronological  order
is, the order according to whom?  The writer, the victim, a witness or perhaps
the suspect.  Each of these actors in the event have their own perspective to
the order of events.  For the writer, the incident starts when they first arrive on
the scene. For the victim it is when they first realize they are the victim.  For the
witness it is when they first see the action that makes them a witness.  Of
course, for the suspect it is when they make that conscious decision to commit
the crime.  When we say chronological order, mean true chronological order,
the order in which the events actually occurred.  Many reports begin this way:

“While on patrol, (date and time) I received a call to (location).  Upon my arrival
I spoke to the victim, (name) who said…”

This format is told in the order in which the events occurred to the writer.  It can
work and has worked since report writing began.  In simple cases with few
principals, facts and evidence, it is easy to use and can be understood fairly
well.  The problems in clarity occur when there are multiple principals, a
significant amount of evidence and occurred over a longer time period.  You
know you are having problems in organization when you ask yourself, “Where
do I begin?”
This format is not what I would call a “report;”  it is a statement from the writer saying what happened to them.  In
fact, in most cases the crime has already occurred and the writer is telling the story backward.  Many writers, when
asked why they write this way, state they do not want to make it look like they are making it up, they want to
emphasize where they received the information.  

I have a simple startup paragraph that relieves this concern and makes it clear where the information came from:

“I, (name), on (date and time) received a call to (location) reference to (the crime).  My investigation revealed the
following information.”

This one short paragraph is interpreted to mean you talked to all the parties involved and examined the evidence.

A report is not a statement of what the writer did, although this format can more or less work.  A report tells the
story of what happened, based on the investigation.

Some writers are concerned about being required to testify about what the report revealed.  This is not a concern.  
You only testify to what you did, heard or saw.  When a witness tells you what they saw, you cannot testify to those
facts, only that they said it to you.  Their information should be thoroughly documented in their own written
statements.  The report tells the story of what occurred.  Each witness, victim or suspect will testify to their own part
in the case.  Crime scene technicians and experts will testify to the evidence and how it relates to the case.

Your story, told in true chronological order, will be the guide to the prosecutor of what happened.  It is like the
outlines in a coloring book. The prosecutor will add the color with his presentation, using all the subjects and
experts as his crayons to illustrate the picture, the story. The investigating officer that writes the report is one of
those crayons.

We start the process with the opening statement I outlined above.  You can change the verbiage to suit your own
style.  The important phrase is the last sentence, “My investigation revealed the following information.”  This tells
the reader that this is the story of what happened.  Your actions will be inserted in the story as it unfolds.

When you start, set the scene. Introduce the people, property and other information before it is discussed.  For
example:  In a convenient store robbery, set the time, location and victim before you describe the action.

Mr. Jones was working as a store clerk on Jan 12th, 2013, at the Mid-Town Convenient store, 2501 E. Maple
Street, at 2315 hours.  Jones was standing behind the counter, facing the store.  There were no other people in
the store.

These first sentences set the scene.  The next sentence is the next thing that happens.

Approximately 2020 hours the suspect walked in the front door.

Each following sentence is merely a statement of what happened next.

The suspect walked around the store in a counter clockwise direction.
When he emerged from the back of the store he was wearing a stocking mask.
He walked up to the counter and pointed a small revolver at the clerk.
He said, “Give me all the money in the register.”…

If you have multiple subjects involved in the event, introduce and place them all at the same time, before starting
the action.  A good example of this is a shoplifting case with multiple suspects and multiple loss prevention officers.  
Before starting the action, place all the people.  This makes it easy to describe the action when it starts.

After you finish telling the story, you can add all the facts that need to be included in the report not brought out in
the story.  Example:

Evidence collected
Pictures taken
Statements of witnesses, the victim and even the suspect.
Property recovered
Any facts needed to be documented in the case.

Using this process will ensure your report is clear and complete.  The information and methods in this article is
more fully discussed in my book “Report Writing For Law Enforcement & Corrections.”  It is available  from the  
University North Florida IPTM  at this link. “
iptm.org/pdf/pub_catalog.pdfSpecialty.”