Five Fast Improvements to Your Investigative Reports

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What’s the quickest way to set your agency apart? Write reports like a pro.

Here are five easy ways to make your investigative reports the best in the industry.

1. Don’t be lazy.

When my company receives prior investigative reports written by other agencies, I frequently encounter problems. Usually, they’re the result of laziness. 

I recently read a report that was forwarded to us as part of a re-opening of a surveillance case. The video was great—super contradictory to the claim, clear and steady, very impressive.

Then I read the accompanying report.

There was a total of thirty-eight minutes of contradictory video, yet shockingly, there was only one report entry for this activity: It read, “The subject mowed his front lawn.” Keep in mind that this was a million-dollar claim for a back and neck injury.

There was no detailed description of the lawn-mowing activity, although the video showed repeated instances of bending and twisting of the torso. The activity should have been broken down into five-minute increments, vividly describing the activity and the range and fluidity of movement.

But that would have taken work, which this national investigative company was not willing to do. Completely unbelieveable. Is it any wonder we got the reopen instead of them?

2. Be sure the evidence matches the report. 

We were forwarded a report a few years ago that, at first glance, appeared to be a blockbuster. The report stated that there was extensive video of the subject conducting what was described as prolonged landscaping in his backyard.

Instant fraud case, right? 

Not so fast. In the video, the subject was almost always obscured from view. (This detail was not included in report.) The only clear, unobscured image of the subject was of him sitting at a table, briefly. But when he was doing yard work, all you could actually see over the privacy fence was the tops of two heads.

In short, the video evidence simply did not match the report. It was inconclusive, and another round of surveillance should have been ordered … but never was.

This investigative agency wanted to portray a base hit as a home run. But in doing so, they likely damaged their reputation—and possibly, their position on the vendor panel.

Make sure your report accurately matches your video or other evidence. 

3. Use active voice, in the past tense. 

I have written and read thousands of investigative reports over a twenty-year career as a private investigator. There seems to be division in the industry over using past tense or present tense.

Let’s settle this debate: When your clients read your investigative report, the events have already occurred. Writing in the past tense just makes sense. 

Make no mistake: Your report is a story, and it should read like one. I have read reports that vacillate between present and past tenses; this is the hallmark of a bad report.

Also, remember to use the active voice rather than the passive voice.

What is the difference? I found the perfect explanation at quick and by “grammar girl” Mignon Fogarty. 

Active voice:Steve loves Amy.” Steve is the subject of the sentence, and his action is loving Amy.

Passive voice:Amy is loved by Steve.” The sentence gets reversed, and Amy becomes the subject. But she isn’t actually doing anything; she’s simply the recipient of Steve’s love. Steve is the one doing the loving.

The passive sentence does not flow as well. It’s unnecessarily complicated and sounds vaguely bureaucratic and stuffy. It utterly fails in its mission of clarity, brevity, and getting to the point.

Keep the tenses and voices uniform throughout all of your reports. They will be much clearer when a judge or hearing officer is evaluating your investigative reports. 

4. Include a comprehensive synopsis.

Admit it: Writing reports is a drag. And reading them isn’t much better.

Do your clients a favor: Write a brief but comprehensive synopsis. Be simple and clear. If your subject used a cane, say so in the opening of the synopsis. If she demonstrated no outward sign of physical restriction when she unloaded her mammoth BJ’s Club shopping cart, say so in the synopsis.

A good synopsis gives your clients the facts right out of the gate. If no contradictory activity is listed, they can simply move on to the next case. They will appreciate your straightfowardness. It saves them time, and that is a courtesy.

5. Write for the target audience.

I was trained to write reports with the audience in mind. As professional investigators, our audience is usually a judge adjuster or attorneys. Write to their professional level, every single time. 

A good piece of advice I received when starting out was to write reports like an investigator and review them like an opposing attorney. Look for holes not only in your sentence structure, but in your logic. Be clear, precise and direct. Remember, you are the one who will defend the report on the stand.

About the Author:

Barry Maguire is a twenty-year veteran of the surveillance industry. He has conducted and/or supervised more than 5,000 surveillance private investigations cases to date. Barry has owned and operated New England Risk Management Investigations since 2001. He lives in the Metro Boston area with his wife and three children. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn