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How Private Investigators Can Use Written Reports As A Marketing Tool

  • March 16, 2011
  • by Bill Blake

Professional report writing is a skill that can be a killer for some private investigators. It must be composed only of facts and not contain wording that can be misleading or require interpretation. Our everyday conversations contain words that have an implied meaning other than the intended factual meanings.

The value of your report can be dramatically damaged unless extreme care is taken to ensure accuracy. A substantive error can be very damaging to your reputation. In an assault, if the actions of the perpetrator are erroneously attributed to the victim, everything else in the report is suspect.

Poor English or grammar is a reputation killer. Improper capitalization and punctuation are, unfortunately, a common error in many reports.

In the era of modern computers with a spell-check feature, there is no excuse for misspelled words or typographical errors. Such errors clearly demonstrate carelessness and apathy. The use of a spell-check feature does not guarantee accuracy. How many ways can you spell the liquid substance that comes from the sky that have the same pronunciation? While you meant to say the rain came at an inopportune time, spell-check may not identify an error if you used the words rein or reign.

The best written report can be easily destroyed by dirt and extraneous markings on the pages. Keep your coffee cup away from your printer!

A well-written report is an example of your work that will be seen by many people for many different purposes. It signals to all the quality of your work. The highest quality work with a poorly written report will always be viewed as poor quality work.

State things clearly and directly. You are compensated for the quality of your investigative effort - not for the number of words in your report. Brevity with completeness and clarity are the keys to a well-written report.

Do not speculate or guess. You have been tasked to determine facts and provide accurate data. Anyone can guess and speculate! Why spend money for an investigation just to have someone else do what you can do: Guess!

Don't use boilerplate language. Boilerplate language indicates that all situations have common facts that can be expressed in terms that do not differentiate your situation from all others. Each situation is different and should be described in terms unique to the situation.

Avoid absolute words - "always" and "never." It is the rare situation where absolute words can be used without being subject to question. Before using these words, make sure you can justify their use.

Make sure the report is not vague, equivocal, or uncertain. Any report should be factual and specific in detail. If for some reason there is justification for using vague or uncertain terminology, the reasons should be spelled out in your report.

Avoid emphatic language, exclamation points, bold face, italics, and capital letters to emphasize findings or conclusions. Unnecessary emphasis within a report can indicate your personal opinions, bias, and prejudices when your role as an investigator is to simply collect factual data and let others make their own judgment.

Use the active voice - "John hit Joe," not "Joe was hit by John." This shows assertiveness and that you are comfortable with the information you have developed. The active voice is strong as opposed to passive and weak.

Use precise (specific, clear cut) language. This is another indicator of your confidence in the work produced and reduces the probability of others misunderstanding the facts.

Define technical terms and language. You can never assume that the reader will be familiar with technical terminology. The excessive use of unfamiliar technical terminology confuses the reader and may lead to an assumption that the writer is attempting to display his technical knowledge and belittle the reader - the person who is paying for the report.

Avoid evidence of bias. Nothing will call your report into question quicker than evidence of bias. You have been retained to report facts and not express your personal opinion through apparent biases in your report.

Use confident language - not hedge words - "it seems," "could," "apparently," or "I believe." Failure to use confident language may appear to the reader that you question some of the information being presented as facts.

Use objective (unbiased) language and avoid subjective (prejudiced) characterizations. You cannot be impartial when you use wording such as "Joe Smith, the perpetrator" in your report. Remember you do not provide legal advice. You provide facts and let the reader arrive at their own conclusions.

Avoid commenting on the credibility of witnesses. This is another example of inserting your opinions into the data and not letting the reader evaluate the source of your information. In some cases, this could lead to legal difficulties for the writer.

Ensure internal consistency. Make sure that if "Smith shot Jones" at the beginning of your report that it does not change to "Jones shot Smith" or "Smith shot Johnson" in latter parts of the report. This could be embarrassing at the least and devastating to your reputation at the extreme.

Never use the words "legal" or "legally." Remember you are an investigator and not an attorney, unless you have a law degree, and then be careful.

"Draft": When you annotate a report with this title, it announces to others that there are other versions of this report. They will be reviewed for consistency between the reports and you may be required to explain the differences.

"Probable," "substantially," or "possible" are ambiguous words. These words may show that you are not sure of the information contained in your report and should be avoided except in very rare circumstances.

"Obviously" or "clearly" are patronizing, condescending and presumptive words. To many it would indicate that you question the reader's ability to recognize obvious facts. Insulted clients do not return for additional insults.

"Appears," "presumably," "supposedly," "is said," or "evidently" imply uncertainty. This is another example of letting others know that you do not have complete confidence in the information in your report. If information is questionable, state that fact in clear cut language.

"He," "she," "it" or "they": These words are confusing and uncertain as to identity. It is better to use proper names such as "Mr. Jones" or "Mrs. Smith" to reduce misunderstanding.

Royal "we": One person is writing the report and "we" suggests more than one report writer. Using "we" to attribute success as a combination of individual collaborative efforts is commendable but not acceptable when writing a report that you will be signing.

"Complete," "thorough," meticulous," and "exhaustive": These words are self-serving and hold the investigator to extremely high standards. During the review of your report, other ideas and investigative leads may be identified, thus bringing your exhaustive report into question.

Report writing skills are extremely important to your professional and personal reputation. When you do things correctly your reputation will remain intact. If you do things incorrectly, it may cost you clients.

Bill Blake has more than 50 years of experience as a private investigator and corporate security manager. He is a member of Intellenet and a guest contributor to the Weekly News Round-up.

If you're interested in writing articles about the private investigation industry, is always looking for guest writers to share their industry knowledge.

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