You’re proud of your investigation skills. You’ve conducted productive, unbiased interviews and uncovered, preserved and documented all the evidence. Now you need to present your findings to your boss, corporate counsel, maybe even the courts. Here’s where your investigation report comes in and this is why it has to be a winner.
“Investigation reports are likely to be used by a client or a company to make a decision, often on terminating an employee or presenting it for potential criminal charges,” says Derek Knights, CFE, CPP, CISSP, PCI, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, Global Security and Investigations at TD Bank. “If our reports don’t state the facts clearly and unambiguously and completely, and in a manner that’s easy for the client or boss to read, we could allow them some interpretation that could be wrong.”
Anatomy of a Bad Report
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- the reader can’t understand it
- the reader stops halfway (or doesn’t even start) because reading it is too much of a chore
- the report doesn’t say what the author meant
If any of these things happen, says Knights, your investigation has lost credibility. To avoid this, use plain language, short words and sentences, and skip the obscure terminology, acronyms and technical jargon.
Anatomy of a Good Report
A well-presented investigation report, says Knights, consists of four elements:
- Issue: two to three paragraphs, stating what happened.
- Findings: two to three paragraphs, outlining the end result of the investigation
- Investigation: a clear and concise account of the supporting details
- Resolution: outline of the final outcome, followed by appendices
All of these elements should be simply and clearly written so that there can be no alternate interpretation of the facts.
What Goes Where
“The first element is to clearly state what the situation is. Describe the [issue] in broad strokes, and the timeline and the details, so that the reader can form a mental picture of what’s going on,” says Knights.
“The next thing is to very clearly, in prose or bullet points, or a combination, point out who was responsible, how it was determined that they were responsible (at a very high level) and what steps have been taken. In other words, the boss sees what happened and what we’ve done about it in the first half page of the document.”
The next section, says Knights, contains the details, the chronological story, the synopses of interviews, descriptions of the type of evidence, etc.
A more detailed conclusion or resolution wraps things up at the end of the report. The appendices, at the end of the resolution section, may be a binder, or electronic equivalent, containing the invoices, statements and all the other documentation and evidence that support the report.
“The report itself, instead of being a 10-to-15-page complete travelogue of the investigation, is a very short and punchy and understandable account of what happened and what we did about it,” says Knights.
Say it Clearly and Correctly
“But the most important thing, in my opinion, is to use plain language, simple everyday words, short sentences and short paragraphs,” says Knights. “Make sure your grammar and punctuation are correct… Misplaced punctuation can radically change the meaning of a sentence. A comma in the wrong spot or a missing hyphen could lead your reader to the wrong conclusions, and that’s bad,” he says.
“And write, rewrite, obtain feedback, and rewrite again. Your work is important; ensure your writing does it justice.”