Investigative questions are considered one of the most important parts of an investigation. This is because the right investigative questions can give the company the information they are looking for and help them resolve issues fast and fairly. The best types of investigative questions are usually the follow-up questions that are based on what an individual is saying. However, to get to the follow-up questions, an investigator will need some starter questions that will help them build rapport if necessary, assist them in initiating the interview and setting a timeline, but also planning how the investigation is going to go.

Investigative questions for every stage

Planning stage 

Before starting the process, the investigator will need to speak with the business and get some information out of them first. It is crucial that the investigator doesn’t interrupt anyone at any stage and they let them talk until they are finished. During an interview with the business, investigative questions such as these can be helpful:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved? What is their role in the organisation?
  3. Is there any evidence or documentation you have collected?
  4. Were there any witnesses?
  5. What day and time did it happen? Has something similar happened again in the past?
  6. How did it happen?
  7. Where did it happen?
  8. Do you know why it happened?
  9. Has anyone else been notified? (e.g. a lawyer, police or a government body)
  10. Is there anything you can share that will help us during the investigation?
  11. Are there any policies we need to be aware of?
  12. Can you send us any relevant documents that apply to this incident?
  13. Did the parties involved receive any training? (e.g. Training on policies and procedures or harassment)
  14. Has anyone in the past complained about this?
  15. Is there any surveillance that could have recorded that incident?
  16. What is the witness’s relation to the main parties?
  17. Was anyone harmed?
  18. Who is the person responsible for health and safety/cybersecurity?

These types of investigative questions will allow the investigators to plan their process and get some necessary details from the company before starting the investigation. A trend that you will notice throughout all of our questions is that we think open-ended questions are one of the best (if not the best) types of questions to ask. This is because it allows the respondent to provide as much information as they think is relevant and allows the investigator to get enough content for a follow-up question. 

Yes or no questions, or simple questions such as “How long have you been working for the company?” may be used during the interview stage to ease an individual into the interview. Investigators need to be ready to conduct interviews online, as a lot of employees now work in different locations. Our customers use Polonious to conduct their online interviews because they are easy to carry out and all evidence obtained by the interviews can be stored securely in our system.

The investigation stage

Investigative questions during the start of the interview process should be easy to answer as difficult questions from the get-go might cause the interviewee to feel anxious and close up. The investigator should spend some time talking about easy topics so the employee does not feel nervous before jumping into the main purpose of the investigation. It is also a good idea to avoid leading questions such as “She always picks on you first right?” as these questions give an interviewee an answer they can go along with.

The investigative questions asked to the interviewee can be similar to those asked to the company in a way. This means that investigative questions such as:

  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • How did it happen?
  • When did it happen? (be specific)
  • Did anyone else witness it?

These are questions that could be asked in all stages as each individual will share their own perspective on what took place. They get a lot of information that will assist the investigator with developing more accurate and relevant follow-up questions. That is one of the main reasons why the initial questions are so important. If the investigation doesn’t start with high-quality questions, it won’t be able to continue with high-quality follow-up questions.

 Some other investigative questions we recommend are:

  1. What impact did the incident have on you?
  2. Were you harmed in any way? (physically or mentally)
  3. Has this happened before? 
  4. Was anyone else involved, internally or externally?
  5. Have similar incidents occurred outside of work?
  6. Were you informed of relevant policies and procedures prior to the incident?
  7. Have you received training on this issue?
  8. How did you react to the incident? (verbally and physically)
  9. How did the accused react? (if there is one) 
  10. How did witnesses react?
  11. Did you seek any medical help?
  12. Have you shared this information with anyone else?
  13. How quickly did you report the incident?
  14. (If late) Was there something that prevented you from reporting the incident quicker?
  15. How did the company respond to your report?
  16. Have you made any prior reports about similar incidents? Are you aware of anyone else who has? (e.g. reporting near misses)
  17. Do you know why the incident happened?

The person (or people) who reported a problem or an incident will be able to provide their perspective through those investigative questions. Then the investigator can move on to questioning the rest of the people involved to get a better idea of what happened. An investigation is only effective if all sides of the story are heard.

investigative questions

Investigative questions for the accused (if there are any)

The accused is not always at fault. It is important to remember that going into the interview. Hence, investigative questions should be focused on learning what happened rather than accusing them of anything. They should try to get their perspective, what they experienced and see things from their point of view, rather than from the yes of the complainant. This will allow for a fairer and equal investigation. Some examples are:

  1. Do you have any evidence of what happened?
  2. What was said during the incident?
  3. What was your reaction?
  4. What did you do after the incident?
  5. What happened leading up to the incident?
  6. Did anyone else witness what happened?
  7. Do you know who reported the issue?
  8. (If they are claiming it’s a lie) Do you know why anyone would lie about this?
  9. Have you spoken to anyone about what happened?
  10. Are you aware of the company’s policies and procedures?

Keep in mind that the “accused” could be in this position due to a variety of reasons. This means that they need to be treated with the same amount of respect as anyone else involved. Investigators should ensure at every step of the investigation that no information is being shared with external parties. If they realise that people are speaking to others, (not including mental health support providers) they should explain to them the importance of keeping everything confidential as this could affect not only them but also other people involved. 

Questioning for the witness (if there are any)

An investigation may not have witnesses and while that makes things a bit harder, it is important to not try and force the existence of witnesses. This means that the investigator should ensure the person they are interviewing did see what happened and they are not just recalling it from what they heard. Here are some investigative questions to ask:

  1. What exactly happened from your perspective?
  2. What did you do after what you witnessed?
  3. Who was involved?
  4. Was anyone with you when it happened?
  5. Have you discussed the incident with anyone?
  6. What is your relationship with the reporter and the accused?
  7. Is there any additional information you can provide?
  8. Did you report the incident? (If no) Why not? (If yes) To who? When?
  9. Did you feel comfortable reporting the incident?
  10. Can you provide any evidence to support what you saw?
  11. Did those involved try to approach you after the incident? What did they do?
  12. Did something happen leading up to the incident that you think is relevant?

Investigators should use the questions to double-check whether the individual they are talking to is a real witness. Asking these types of investigative questions can allow them to spot any contradictions or inconsistencies between what they said happened and what other people claim. After finishing each interview, the investigator should check that the interviewees have resources available to them that provide them with support during the difficult times.

Are you looking for a faster and more effective investigation?

Our customers understand that asking the right investigative questions can take the interview a long way. They also know that a case management system like Polonious is essential to the success of the investigation. Our clients rely on us to help their investigators store evidence, conduct online interviews and automate their workflows. We make the whole process more efficient to help them save money and time. Polonious gives them automatic reminders so they are aware of what’s coming up and they stay on top of everything. If you want to know more, reach out and book a demo with us!