How to Write an Investigation Report that's Clear and Credible

Tips to ensure investigator credibility with a factual report

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on October 22nd, 2013

When an investigation leads to a criminal or civil court case, the investigation report can be one of the most valuable sources of evidence for a company’s counsel. The findings from the internal investigation, presented clearly and factually, can be an indisputable record from which an attorney can build a strong case for the company he or she represents.

Every investigator needs to know how to write an investigation report that will stand up to scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the investigation report isn’t always a clear and factual representation of the events investigated. And a badly written report can sink the company’s side of the case if the opposing counsel picks up on weaknesses in the document or the processes it outlines. Every investigator needs to know how to write an investigation report that will stand up to scrutiny.

Know What You Need to Know

An investigator needs to start by looking at the right information, says Frank Wisehart, Director of Business Advisory Services for Schneider Downs, Inc. “Sometimes they only look at the information that was provided to them. They don’t know what they need to know and so they don’t ask for the right information,” he says.

Investigators who accept whatever information is in front of them and then base their investigation reports on that information are going to miss some critical facts. Wisehart suggests thinking about the information at hand and then posing the question “In a perfect world, if I could have any document, what would it be?”

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Investigators need to spend adequate time researching and understanding the standards that existed at the time that the act being investigated took place, says Wisehart. “Is there a policies and procedures manual? What standard was violated?… You need to know what the standard is so that you can adequately talk about it and say how that standard was not met.”

If you’re accusing somebody of misconduct, you need to be able to articulate why it was wrong. “You need to envision a courtroom setting where you could be cross examined on your knowledge of a particular item which you are claiming this person has violated,” says Wisehart. In these circumstances, there’s no substitute for having done your homework.

Stick to Your Expertise

An investigation report is expected to be reliable, credible and relevant, says Wisehart. For this reason, investigators should stay within the scope of their expertise.

“Don’t embellish your reports. Just state the facts, nothing but the facts. Stick to the chronology of what happened, don’t make leaps of faith. Or if you do, clearly say that you are making an assumption,” he says.

“When you get outside the scope of what you’re an expert on, you start opining about things that you really shouldn’t be opining about. And that becomes the focus of a review of your work product. If they find that that there is something outside your scope of expertise, then the good stuff that you did also gets thrown out,” he says.

“When you screw up in court it becomes a black mark that can follow you around for a long time,” says Wisehart. “Once you’ve lost your credibility, you’ve lost the case.”

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Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.