You’ve Been Framed
In the last couple of posts, we covered some tips for good report writing, with a bunch of tips on how to make the process easier. The link to the posts is at the end of this one. This time we look at an 8-step framework for writing investigation reports that can be adapted for virtually any kind of investigation.
Let’s imagine you are writing a report on your investigation of an allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace. While at a hotel bar after a work conference, a senior manager is alleged to have told an intern that she might get a permanent job if she slept with him that night. He also, again while in the bar, massaged her shoulder, made lewd comments about her in front of a colleagues and later that evening texted her inappropriate messages.
Let’s assume there was no criminal investigation. You have completed your investigation. Now you have to set out
- what you have found, and
- your reasons for any conclusions you have made.
The 8-step report-writing template
Tell the reader, in a paragraph or two, what the investigation is about.
2. Investigative process
This is the only segment where it is best not to be as brief as circumstances permit. The goal is to show the reader that you have left no investigative stone unturned. He or she can then have confidence that what follows in the rest of the report is based on an exhaustive and impartial investigation.
Set out what you have done to gather the evidence. What did you do to track down potential witnesses? Who did you interview – and when? What documents and digital evidence did you gather, review and / or forensically analyze? Did you go to where the incident allegedly happened? Did you take photographs and/or video, or prepare a diagram?
List any obstacles – and what you did to try and overcome them. Perhaps a witness refused to be interviewed. Maybe someone denied you access to their personal cell phone records. Or the hotel declined your request for their CCTV footage. You may not have succeeded, but at least you can show you tried.
Set the stage. Give relevant context. Introduce the key people who you will be referring to later in the report – who they are and their relationship to the issue(s) you are investigating.
You may also want to include some information about the company’s sexual harassment policy – or absence thereof – particularly if you are going to be referring to it later.
Include anything else that occurred prior to the conference that might be relevant to the incident itself
4. Events Before The Event / Incident
A few paragraphs (or less, if you can) setting out why the people involved were at the hotel and anything relevant that happened that day. That might, for example, include emails arranging to meet in the bar. Stick to what is relevant to the incident itself.
5. The Event / Incident
Tell the reader the story of what happened, preferably in chronological order. Go through events as they unfolded, as methodically as you can. He said this. She said that. The complainant said this. The respondent said that. Witness One said this. Witness Two said that. Text and cell phone record evidence for each party is….. CCTV located behind the bar shows ………. The bill was paid using a corporate credit card issued to the respondent at 11.07 pm, and so on. You want to recreate events as they happened, where they happened, as best as the evidence permits. Liberally lard the report with diagrams, photographs and – in any electronic version – embedded video.
The story should be based exclusively on evidence, not conjecture. Avoid comment – ‘Witness Three stated that he saw the whole incident but it is clear that there was a pillar in the hotel bar that must have obstructed his view, which probably means he is being economical with the truth.’ Stick to what the witness actually said, at least at this stage. By all means include a diagram and/or photographs showing where everyone says they were sitting, but generally postpone discussing the weight you will attach to any given piece of evidence until the analysis/conclusion section of the report.
The goal is to present all the relevant evidence in such a way that no-one – including anyone directly involved – can reasonably argue that you have ignored, glossed over or given undue emphasis to any particular piece of evidence.
In this case, you might choose to deal with each allegation – the invitation, the massage, the lewd comments and the texting – separately, within this segment. Or perhaps combine the lewd comments and the massage as they both allegedly happened at the same time. A lot will depend on what evidence you have in relation to each allegation.
6. Events After the Incident
Set out anything relevant that happened after the incident – who went where when, for example, or who spoke to whom – if it is relevant. This may include when a complaint was made and to whom – again without colouring or comment. As all investigators know, just because a complaint wasn’t made immediately doesn’t mean the allegation isn’t true. Or that it is.
Don’t forget to include any relevant utterances made by any party, as well as the context in which they were made.
7. Analysis / Conclusion
There’s a very effective method of framing your analysis and conclusion(s), using IRAC. It stands for:
IRAC helps you explain why you have reached your conclusion (s). We will cover it in detail in the next post.
On occasion, investigators are asked to draw up recommendations based on their findings. We will discuss how to draft evidence-based recommendations in the next post.
The template can easily be adapted for multiple incident allegations, events, incidents – even issues – but with the usual caveat – no two investigations are the same. The template is not cast in stone. If you think it might be useful, please feel free to amend it as you see fit.
Report writing is a major segment in our Investigations Training Suite .
The course is accredited for CPD/CLE by a number of Law Societies and Human Resources Professionals Associations across the country.
And, as always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about anything investigative. Here are our contact details: