Report Writing for Investigators Part Two

Ensuring your readers don’t lose the will to live

In Part One, we looked at how to make report writing a bit less of a burden. Here are a few more tips:

  • Short sentences.

People often enjoy an opportunity to breathe as they read. Do you really need that ‘and’? Or will a point/full stop work better? Avoid conjunctions, if you can.

  • Short paragraphs

Keep paragraphs as brief as possible.  Start a new one whenever you reasonably can.

  • Use the active – not passive – tense whenever you can

 I believe the investigation was thorough tends to sound better than It is believed that the investigation was thorough.  Plus it doesn’t sound quite so pompous.

  • Use the first person

Use ‘ I’, not ‘the writer’ (as in ‘The writer was proceeding in a northerly direction on the said day.’) – for the same reason as above.


Making your report attractive to the eye increases the chances that someone might read it from start to finish.

  • Use lots and lots of white space.

Nobody enjoys plowing through dense text.

  • Use lots of headings, sub-heading and text boxes.

As above. Break up the report. Text boxes can be a useful way of dealing with specific issues.

  • Use photographs, maps and/or diagrams

This is really important, particularly in investigative reports. Photographs, maps and diagrams give context. They can simplify complex situations.  They can orient the reader quickly and effectively. Use them liberally. Consider embedding video in electronic versions of a report.

There are some caveats. For example, if you are using a photograph of an area where an incident took place, make sure to document any changes to the layout between the time of the incident and when the photograph was taken.  Consider whether the lighting in the photograph compares what it was at that time, etc. etc.

Quality control

  • Read what you have written out loud.  Does it flow? Is it stilted? Does it make sense? Is there too much or too little?  What has been missed? Is it relevant? Is it clear? Is it boring? Are you losing the will to live? If it sounds rubbish, it probably is.
  • Have someone else read it.

Two reasons:

  1. they may identify gaps, areas that need clarification, typos, errors and other imperfections, and
  2. when you ask a friend or colleague to do this, you will quickly find out whether or not they actually like you. Generally best not to ask your spouse, at least in my experience.
  • Edit ruthlessly.

This can be hard, especially when you have put so much effort into it already. Painful though it is, ask yourself if that sentence, paragraph or page is absolutely necessary.  Does it add to the reader’s understanding for the core issue(s), or is it cosmetic? Is it repetitive? Is it dull?  Can you cut it out? If you can, do.

Questions or comments welcome.  Contact us at:

Next:  a report-writing template that actually works –click here.

Report writing is a major segment in our Investigations Training Suite.

The course is accredited for CPD/CLE by  Law Societies and the Human Resources Professionals Association.