The Ultimate Guide to Writing Investigation Reports

Instructions for writing an investigation report that is clear, complete and compliant

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on August 2nd, 2016
The process of writing the investigation report can sometimes clarify your thinking and can even uncover additional questions that provide new insight into a case.
Writing an investigative report is one of the most tedious tasks an investigator undertakes. But, because it’s an important showcase of the investigation, you can’t skimp on this critical investigation step. Your investigative report reflects on you and your investigation, so make sure it’s as clear, comprehensive, accurate and polished as possible.

An investigative report has many purposes.

  1. It’s a document that sparks some sort of action based on the official findings it presents. This could be a termination of employment, corrective action, implementation of training, counselling, or some other action taken based on the findings.
  2. The investigation report is also a record of the steps of the investigation. It can be used to prove that your investigation was timely, complete and fair.
  3. The information contained in the investigation report may be cited in any legal action, so it’s important that the report is detailed and accurate, but does not include unnecessary detail that can get the company into trouble.
  4. The process of writing the investigation report can sometimes clarify your thinking and can even uncover additional questions that provide new insight into a case.
  5. And finally, the investigation report provides valuable data that can be used to implement control and preventive measures in your company.

We’ve compiled a step-by-step framework for writing an investigative report that will meet the needs of your supervisors, colleagues and anyone else who may require it.

Take your investigation report writing to the next level by downloading our most popular resource: the Investigation Report Template.

Investigative Report “Musts”

Before you begin, it’s important to understand the three critical tasks of a workplace investigative report.

  1. It must be organized in a way that anybody internally or externally can understand it without having to reference other materials.
  2. It must document the investigative findings objectively and accurately and provide decision makers with enough information to determine whether they should take further action.
  3. It must indicate whether the allegations were substantiated, unsubstantiated or whether there’s something missing that is needed to come to a conclusion.

Video: How to Write Investigation Reports

 Executive Summary

The executive summary helps high-level stakeholders get an overall picture of the allegations, investigation and outcome.
The executive summary should be a concise overview of the investigation from beginning to end. It should not contain any information that is not already in the investigation report. Write in the active voice. For example: “I interviewed Carrie Smith,” not “Carrie Smith was interviewed.”

Need a quick reference for writing investigation reports? Download our Investigation Report Writing Cheat Sheet.

This may be the most important component of the investigation report. Many readers will never need to go beyond this section. High-level stakeholders get an overall picture of the allegations, investigation and outcome.

Example: On February 23rd, 2016, the Human Resources Manager received a written complaint of sexual harassment submitted by Carrie Smith, the stockroom manager. Smith claimed that on February 22nd, 2016, her supervisor, Mark Robinson, pushed her against the wall in the boardroom and groped her breasts. Smith also alleged that Robinson on another occasion told her she was “too pretty” to be working in the stockroom and that he could arrange for a promotion for her. 

On February 24th, the Human Resources Manager assigned the case to me.

On February 25th, I interviewed Carrie Smith and two witnesses to the alleged February 22nd incident, John Jones and Pamela Miller. Jones and Miller did not corroborate the groping allegation but said they saw Smith running out of the boardroom in tears. Miller also reported hearing Robinson tell another employee, Sara Brown, that she had “a great rack”. 

On February 26th, I interviewed Mark Robinson. He denied the groping incident and said he was “just joking around” with her in the boardroom but did not actually touch her and that Smith was too sensitive. He admitted to telling Smith she was too pretty to work in the stockroom, but contends that it was meant as a compliment.

Based on the interviews with the complainant and the alleged offender, I find that the complainant’s allegation of sexual harassment is substantiated.

It is my recommendation that the company provide the respondent with a written account of the findings of the investigation and a reminder of the company’s expectations for employee behavior. I also recommend that the respondent receive sexual harassment training and be advised that repeated harassing behavior may result in further discipline up to and including termination.


Preliminary Case Information

Avoid using jargon, acronyms or technical terms that the average reader outside the company may not understand.
This section can go either before or after the executive summary. This section captures the preliminary case information in a concise format, without too much detail.

Record:

  • Your name and investigator identification number, if you have one
  • Case number
  • The date the complaint was reviewed
  • How the complaint was received, for example: Employee hotline, email to HR Manager, verbal report to supervisor.
  • The date that the case was assigned
  • Name of the reporter/complainant

If the source is an employee, record:

  • Source’s email address
  • Source’s work telephone number
  • Employment level
  • Job code
  • Hire date
  • Location
  • Employee identification number
  • Department identification number
  • Date the incident was reported
  • Date of the incident

If the source is not an employee, record:

  • Source’s personal email address
  • Source’s personal telephone number

Summarize the allegation

Describe the allegation in simple, clear language. Avoid using jargon, acronyms or technical terms that the average reader outside the company may not understand.

  1. What type of case is it? For example, is it a case of alleged harassment, discrimination, fraud or other workplace misconduct.
  2. Specify the case type. For example, is it sexual harassment, gender discrimination, accounts payable fraud, etc.
  3. Who is the alleged victim?
  4. If the alleged victim is an employee, identify the person’s supervisor.
  5. Capture details of the allegation. Example: Stacey Smith alleges that John Jones, an accounts payables clerk, has been funnelling payments to a dummy supplier that he has set up in the company’s procurement system. Stacey says that she noticed a discrepancy when one of the suppliers she deals with questioned a payment and she had to ask an accounts payable clerk, Tom Tierney, to pull the file for her. When Tom accidentally brought Stacey the wrong file, she saw that monthly payments were being made to a supplier she had never heard of, and that the address of the supplier was John Jones’s address. Stacey knows John’s address because her sister is John’s next-door neighbor.

Subject of the Allegation

  • Name
  • Email
  • Work telephone number, if the subject is an employee
  • Personal telephone number if the subject is not an employee

If the subject of the allegation is an employee, include the following information:

  • Employment status, for example: Full time employee, part time employee, contractor, vendor or other
  • Job code
  • Hire date
  • Business location
  • Employee identification number
  • Department identification number

Ten Key Ingredients for Successful

Details of the Investigation

It’s important to keep the scope of the investigation focused narrowly on the allegation and avoid drawing separate but related investigations into the report.
This section contains a full account of the investigative steps from beginning to end. Again, it’s important to use simple, clear language, free of jargon and technical terms.

Investigation Plan and Scope

Begin outlining the investigation plan by defining the scope. It’s important to keep the scope of the investigation focused narrowly on the allegation and avoid drawing separate but related investigations into the report.

Example: The investigation will focus on the anonymous tip received through the whistleblower hotline. The objective of the investigation is to determine whether the allegation reported via the hotline is true or false.

Write Detailed Case Notes

Record a description of each action taken during the investigation. This becomes a diary of your investigation, showing everything that was done during the investigation, who did it and when. Be thorough and detailed because this section of your report can be an invaluable resource if you are ever challenged on any details of your investigation.

For each action, outline:

  • Type of action, such as an initial review, meeting, contacting parties, conducting an interview, following up, etc.
  • Person responsible for the action
  • Date the action was completed
  • Brief description of the action

Document Investigation Interviews

Write a summary of each interview. These should be brief outlines listed separately for each interview.

Include the following information:

  • Who conducted the interview
  • Who was interviewed
  • Where the interview took place
  • Date of the interview

Include a list of people who refused to be interviewed or could not be interviewed and why.

Write a Report for Each Interview

This is an expanded version of the summaries documented above. Even though some of the information is repeated, be sure to include it so that you can use the summaries and reports separately as standalone documentation of the interviews conducted.

For each interview, document:

  • Who conducted the interview
  • Who was interviewed
  • Location of the interview
  • Date of the interview
  • Summary of the substance of the interview, based on your interview notes or recording.

Example: I asked Jane Jameson to describe the events of July 13th, 2016. She said: “After work, Peter approached me as I was leaving the building and asked me if I would like to work on his team. When I said that I was happy working with my current team, he told me that my team had too many women on it and that ‘all those hormones are causing problems’ so I should think about moving to a ‘sane’ team.”

I asked her how she reacted to that. She said: I told him that I found that offensive and he said that I needed to stop being so sensitive. I just walked away.”

I asked Jane to describe the events of the next day. She said: “The next day he came to my desk and asked me if I had given any thought to moving to his team. I repeated that I was happy where I was. At that point he started massaging my shoulders and said that moving to his team would have its ‘perks’. I asked him to stop twice and he wouldn’t. Sally walked over and told him to get lost and ‘leave Jane alone’ and he left.”

I thanked Jane for her cooperation and concluded the interview.


Assess Credibility

Aside from collecting the evidence, it is also an investigator’s job to analyze the evidence and come to a conclusion. Include a credibility assessment for each interview subject in the interview report. Describe your reasons for determining that the interviewee is or isn’t a credible source of information.

This involves assessing the credibility of the witness. The EEOC has published guidelines that recommend examining the following factors:

  • Plausibility – Is the testimony believable and does it make sense?
  • Demeanor – Did the person seem to be telling the truth?
  • Motive to falsify – Does the person have a reason to lie?
  • Corroboration – Is there testimony or evidence that corroborates the witness account?
  • Past record – Does the subject have a history of similar behavior?

Example: I consider Jane to be a credible interviewee based on the corroboration of her story with Sally and also because she has nothing to gain by reporting these incidents. She has no prior relationship with Peter and seemed genuinely upset by his behavior.

Document the Evidence

It’s critically important to include and fully consider all evidence obtained, whether or not it supports your position.
In this section, describe all the evidence obtained. This could include video footage, email records, employee security access records, computer login records, documents or papers, physical objects, etc. Number the evidence and refer to any physical evidence by the number recorded on the chain of evidence document.

It’s critically important to include and fully consider all evidence obtained, whether or not it supports your position. Ignoring evidence that doesn’t support your conclusion will undermine your investigation and your credibility as an investigator. As long as you have a good explanation of why certain evidence is not being weighted as heavily as other evidence, your conclusion is defensible.


 

Reach a Conclusion

You must be able to show that your conclusions are based on reliable evidence that is relevant and that you have considered any evidence that doesn’t support your conclusion.
Use this section to set out your findings and conclusion at the end of the investigation. This is where your analysis comes into play. Keep the points in logical order, addressing the issue being examined only, and don’t include any information that is not supported by the fact.

Example: My findings indicate that, based on the evidence, Bill’s allegation that Jim blocked him from the promotion is true. Jim’s behavior towards Bill is consistent with the definition of racial discrimination. The company’s code of conduct forbids discrimination; therefore, Jim’s behavior constitutes employee misconduct.

It’s important for your conclusion to be defensible, based on the evidence you have presented in your investigation report.

Be confident in your knowledge of misconduct. For incidents of harassment, refer to this guide of the 11 Types of Workplace Harassment.

You must be able to show that your conclusions are based on reliable evidence that is relevant and that you have considered any evidence that doesn’t support your conclusion.

Make Recommendations (if requested)

Include this section only if you have been asked to provide recommendations. You may recommend that the company does nothing, provides counselling, disciplines the employee(s), transfers employees, terminates or demotes an employee, etc.

Example: It is my recommendation that the company provide the respondent with a written account of the findings of the investigation and a reminder of the company’s expectations for employee behavior. I also recommend that the respondent receive sexual harassment training and be advised that repeated harassing behavior may result in further discipline up to and including termination.

Learn More: Watch our webinar on Writing Effective Investigation Reports below and get an hour of Continuing Education Credit.


Webinar Writing Effective Investigation Reports

Check Your Work

Keep in mind that your investigative report may be seen by your supervisors, directors, even C-level executives in your company, as well as attorneys and judges if a case goes to court.

If you’re not a stellar grammarian, if your spelling leaves something to be desired and if your punctuation is less than perfect, you may want to enlist the services of a writer-friend or colleague to proofread your investigative report.

Or, if you’re a lone wolf kind of worker, upgrade your skills. At a minimum read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (several times – it’s a short book) to help you pare down your writing to simple, clear language.

And always remember to run a spell check before you pass on any document to others.


 

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.

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