What makes a good investigation report? We at Kelvin see many reports from all over the world. We offer a confidential service to companies to carry out an extensive and detailed review of any report they wish to send us. Consequently, we are in a strong position to comment on the most common errors we see. Here below is a brief summary of some of the most common weaknesses. We hope the advice that follows will enable you to improve the quality and effectiveness of your reports.
What is our general advice? It’s very simple, as is our complete methodology, and we don’t apologise for this. Leonardo da Vinci described simplicity as the ultimate sophistication, and we are very happy to agree.
Keep your reports Clear, Relevant, Accurate and Brief. Not Cluttered, Rambling, Ambiguous and Partial!
This is difficult because there are many opportunities in a report for repeating information already provided. You have the introduction, the executive summary, the description of the incident, the timeline and the RCA (root cause analysis). In all of these it is possible to describe the train of events. So, take great care not to do so. The introduction should not contain any description of the event; the incident statement is more than enough. The executive summary should contain only the briefest description of the incident, and an outline of your findings. The timeline may provide a perfectly adequate description of the incident, without any other amplification, so why bother? A good RCA should act as a perfect summary of the event on its own. If it doesn’t, then it has failed in its purpose. Sadly, most do. Many reports are far too long. So, keep in mind the B of CRAB.
Almost all reports are bound to contain technical terms and acronyms, and many of the readers will know what these mean. But some readers may not, so it is essential for technical terms and acronyms to be described in a glossary either at the beginning or the end of a report. Strictly speaking, an acronym is an initial abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word, like CRAB (see above), SMART, LASER, or TOP-SET. BBC and DNA are not acronyms. However, whatever they are, they must be described. So, when you have finished writing your report, read it through, pick out every acronym or initialism, and include them in a key in your report.
There are very few occasions when bullet points are of any value, so avoid them at all costs. What do they do? Almost nothing. Replace your bullet points with letters and numbers so that it becomes easy for anyone discussing your report to refer to the appropriate point. There is nothing sillier than referring to the tenth bullet point in a series. You have to count all the way down, and hope that your correspondent doesn’t make an error when counting down to ten in the same list. Yet, almost every report we see is full of bulleted lists.
Are there more rules and tips for writing a good report? Yes there are, but you will have to come on our ‘Report Writing’ course to find out what they are! Contact us for more details.