” The chances of me enjoying writing an investigative report? About the same as me becoming the New Face of L’Oreal. “
People who do investigations generally like investigating. Sorting out what the issues are, coming up with a plan, interviewing, that Eureka moment when you find something in an email or a cell phone bill. Finding out what actually happened. It’s fun. What’s there not to like……….…………other than the report writing?
Most people I know who do fact -finding – be it in the workplace, as a regulator or a cop – or any other kind of investigation – don’t look forward to the inevitable report writing stage. It can be a chore and a challenge, particularly if you are dealing with complex issues and facts – hence the quote above.
This is the first of a series of short posts that may help you make report writing a bit less of a burden.
Today, we discuss basic principles and a general approach that applies to virtually anything you write – reports, letters, memos – even emails. In upcoming posts we will cover a framework for writing a narrative report and a proven methodology that lets you explain the rationale for your findings, clearly and logically.
- Don’t write anything that is not supported by the facts. This is, by far, the most important writing tip. If in doubt, take it out. One tiny factual error and use it to discredit the entire report.
- Create a framework before writing (more about that in the next post)
- Write as you go. Add flesh to the framework, as your investigation progresses.
- Leave the analysis until last.
- Decide who are you writing for
Before you begin to write, ask yourself this. Who is my audience? Is it my boss? A complainant and/or respondent? An adjudicator? The public? The media? Anyone else who may have an interest in the investigation? All of the above? Once you have determined who you are writing for, write in a way that will resonate with them.
- Keep it as short as you can
2 words good, 4 words bad. Boil down those mountains of evidence into key essentials. If it is not relevant, don’t include it.
- If it’s a long report, write an executive summary.
Chances are, very few people are going to read every single word of your report, however brilliantly written it may be. Consider drafting a brief but strong executive summary. It should cover your key findings.
- Simplify where you can
Keep your writing as simple as possible. Just because you got a Thesaurus for your birthday doesn’t mean you have to look up the longest word for whatever it is you are trying to say.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms
Jargon can be incredibly off-putting, for those not in the know. If your audience isn’t in the know, don’t use it.
- Be neutral and balanced, particularly when you are setting out the evidence.
Set out the facts unadorned and without comment. They often speak most strongly for themselves. Wait until you get to the analysis and findings segment of the report before you add your perspective on those facts. If you don’t, it may seem that you have already made up your mind.