Whether you contract an external investigator or conduct an investigation yourself, you need to record the process, document the evidence you gathered and articulate the evaluation you applied to make the findings. The Investigation Report needs to provide the decision-maker with all the relevant information to make fast, reliable decisions that won’t lead them into a court room without passing “GO”.
Effective decision making – as a result of any investigation process – depends on the quality of the investigative work and how it’s effectively communicated to the decision maker.
Whilst there is no one, perfect report design that fits all cases, developing a standardised report format can be helpful. This enables you to keep all relevant information in the same spot, so the reader will know where to find things relevant to their decision.
Having a range of two or three different report formats gives you the flexibility to fit most cases into a standardised layout.
Key points to remember as the writer:
- Write the report for the purpose intended. If the report is going to the CEO for a decision on misconduct or to the complainant, you should consider the reader and purpose in every word and sentence you write. If there is likely to be solicitors involved or people who don’t know the business, your background section will need to layout clearly the case’s environment, the nature of people’s roles and any industry-specific background required to understand the facts reported later in the report.
- Address the terms of reference; before starting your report, make sure your report will answer the questions asked in that document. Providing a copy of the TOR is critical to understanding the report.
- Clearly layout the methodology used to gather the information relied upon in the report. Do this early on, before the analysis of evidence. At a minimum, this section should layout who you spoke to and who provided which documents. List and annex any electronic evidence or computer analysis and social media searches.
- Write in short sentences, using simple language. If you can say something in five rather than nine words, do it.
- Use easy-to-understand tables to present key findings, where relevant.
- When presenting the evidence and your analysis, consider how the reader will understand this without repetition. If you have clear allegations, consider presenting only evidence relevant to each allegation, together with an analysis. Then lead the reader to the finding which should flow logically from the evidence.
- Make sure you present all relevant evidence in the report. Investigator Bias could lead you to omit certain pieces of evidence to persuade the reader to agree with your finding. This is a sure way to end up in court, with poor decisions based on a deficient report.
- Images and diagrams can communicate more than a thousand words. But make sure it’s clear what they represent, where they were taken, by whom, to ensure the basic chain of evidence is maintained.
- Summarising large volumes of digital data can be a challenge; whilst you can provide original digital evidence on external hard drives, some sort of summary document will allow the reader to determine if they need to review that evidence personally.
- Don’t neglect to reiterate definitions and legislation if relevant to your report’s findings. Don’t assume that every reader will have an accurate knowledge of the relevant law in each case; a refresher helps everyone and saves them having to look things up independently.