A session at the NHCAA, led by Anthony Maffei, Jr., Special Agent, Health and Human Services, OIG provided some concrete strategies for writing investigation reports and warnings about some common gaffes. Investigators sometimes get caught up in making sure the report is thorough and contains as much information as possible at the expense of grammar, punctuation and presentation. A well written investigation report focuses on both the information and the quality of the report. It reduces ambiguity, is focused, easy to read and reflects the overall quality of the investigation. So the next time you get ready to submit an investigation report, take the time to proofread and consider some of the suggestions outlined below.
- Report writing is a large portion of the job. Sure, you need to conduct thorough interviews, but if you can’t present the information properly, the value is significantly decreased.
- By completing reports faster and with fewer rejections from your superiors, you have more time for the fun stuff.
- Your written product represents you and your department/employer.
Interview Reports – The Bread and Butter
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In your interview notes, include the following pieces of information:
- Date, place, people present
- Information identifying the interviewee- name, DOB, SSN, etc.
- Interviewee contact information- Address, phone numbers, work address.
- Use Subheadings- organizes information and makes it easier to read.
- Use Lists- Great for describing events or office procedures. Use bullets for most lists, use number if the order of events is important.
- NO need for source citations. The person you’re interviewing is the source of the information.
- Use a report template to ensure reports are consistent and complete. Make sure the template is used by all investigators- this makes it easier on the person receiving the reports.
Using Interview Notes
- Obtain all notes taken during the interview, including those taken by colleagues.
- Make copies of the notes.
- Start typing as much as you can remember without regard for organization.
- Clean it up later. This works well for quick interviews.
- Use copies of notes to note specific areas according to topic with different ink colours or highlighter.
- Good for long interviews.
Grammar Best Practices
- Third Person- He spent the kickback money on a flat screen TV. If you have to refer to you in the report, use third person.
- Past Tense- The interview subject is often recalling previous events, therefore, past tense is most appropriate. Use present tense when talking about the interviewee’s current employer, current events, etc.
- Active voice- Avoids ambiguity, passive voice often confuses the reader by concealing the identity of the person doing the actions.
- Active vs. Passive Voice- Active- subject is the doer of the action
- Passive voice- subject isn’t the doer, often receives the action
- Do you proofread at the end or as you write?
- It’s best to proofread as you go. Make sure the information in the previous paragraph makes sense and is grammatically correct before moving to the next paragraph/section.
- Review it at the end as well as a double check. This shouldn’t take much time since the bulk of the edits have already been made.
- Ask these questions as you proofread:
- Is the report free of my editorial comments or subjective conclusions?
- If the interview subject provided third-party information, is the source of that information clear to the reader?
- Write positively, get rid of the not’s. Focus on what something is, not what it’s not. For example, not often= rarely.
- Check for subject and verb agreement.
- Write properly- Revisit the basic principles of grammar and punctuation that you learned way back in elementary school- commas, conjunctions, etc.