An investigative report can be very effective in resolving workplace issues. It follows a workplace investigation after the information has been gathered and evidence has been analysed. The investigator can then recommend the necessary corrective actions. Preparing a thorough investigative report can be a challenging task, especially for investigators who do not have a lot of experience. Some practical guidelines can improve your investigative report and ensure that it is comprehensive, well-structured and impactful.

Six tips for improving an investigative report

Every investigator has their own writing style but some elements can help any individual put together a comprehensive investigative report that can contribute to creating a better investigation outcome. To keep your report insightful and persuasive, follow these six essential tips:

  • Keep it formal but simplify
  • Clarify why certain steps were skipped/not needed
  • Study another course
  • Develop corrective actions that address the root cause rather than the obvious problem
  • Use an investigation report template
  • Get someone to read the report

1. Keep it formal but simplify

A well-written investigative report should show professionalism through its language and tone. While jargon is sometimes needed, it is wise to avoid it when possible, along with overly technical terminology which may confuse the reader. Instead, use clear, concise, and easily understandable language. Ensure the report adheres to fundamental grammar and punctuation rules and make use of short paragraphs, bullet points, or numbered lists for better readability. Long paragraphs or huge blocks of text may convey information faster but the reader will have a harder time comprehending what the document is saying.

Maintaining a neutral tone is crucial when presenting facts, evidence or statements. Refrain from expressing an opinion in the report or using loaded words that may give the appearance of bias. The investigative report should be a factual recount of the workplace investigation, allowing superiors or third parties to make informed decisions based on the content. The corrective actions should only be phrased as recommendations, not requirements.

2. Clarify why certain steps were skipped/not needed

In some instances, you may decide not to investigate specific aspects, interview certain individuals, or collect particular documents. It is essential to document the reasons behind these decisions in the report. By noting the rationale, you demonstrate transparency in the investigation process and guard against accusations of unprofessional or biased conduct. Neglecting to take some certain action could raise questions among the management team and risk the effectiveness of the investigative report.

For example, you may opt not to interview certain parties because they were on leave or unreachable. You may also choose to exclude details about previous accidents or incidents if they are irrelevant to the current investigation. Providing reasons for an incomplete or shorter investigation can play a critical role in supporting your findings and recommendations. Employers are more likely to trust the result if the actions were adequately explained.

3. Study a course

Studying could be needed, especially if you have been appointed internally and have no specialised investigation experience, or as the investigation industry evolves and techniques are improved. While experience and intuition can go a long way in composing an effective investigative report, a formal training course in workplace investigations can significantly improve your skills.

Many organisations offer specialised training programs for investigators, helping them identify relevant laws and regulations, gather facts and evidence, interview witnesses, analyse data and make insightful recommendations. One course may focus on a specific aspect that you are interested in; this course is more likely to be detailed and provide greater insights on the topic that other general investigation courses cannot.

Investigation courses typically cover essential skills, such as organising and planning the investigation, ethical considerations and confidentiality requirements. If you want to invest in further education and training, it would be wise to do thorough research and understand the fees, goals of each course and why you need it. Take your time and figure out which part of the investigative report you struggle with and do not underestimate the benefits a course can have in improving your writing skills.

investigative report

4. Develop corrective actions that address the root cause rather than the obvious problem

In a workplace investigative report, one of the crucial steps is to identify the root causes of the issue at hand. Once the root causes have been identified, it is equally significant to focus corrective actions on those causes instead of just addressing their symptoms. Corrective actions that are tailored to root causes are more likely to be effective and sustainable in the long term. Those kinds of corrective actions are also more likely to drive improvement within the workplace.

When corrective actions only address the symptoms of an issue, it is often just a temporary solution, and the problem can resurface. For example, if harassment in the workplace is a result of a lack of training and awareness, training employees on appropriate conduct can prevent instances of harassment from taking place. However, if the root cause of the issue is a toxic culture that fosters harassment, just providing training may not be enough. In this case, the organisation needs to take more extensive measures, such as revising policies and procedures or making changes to the management structure, to effectively deal with the problem. They might need to re-evaluate their hiring practices and what kind of induction is carried out.

Moreover, when corrective actions only focus on the symptoms, they can lead to an endless cycle of repeatedly dealing with the same issue. This means more costs and lower productivity. It is, therefore, crucial to identify the root causes of the problem during the investigation, so the organisation can implement targeted and sustainable corrective actions.

5. Use an investigation report template

An investigation report template can provide a solid structure for your document, making it easier to organise the information and ensure you cover all relevant aspects. A standard template typically includes the following sections:

  • Executive Summary: Briefly summarises the main findings and recommendations. Ensure you include details such as who and when. Including dates and exact times are important for a better investigative report.
  • Background: Describes the incident, complaint or issue under investigation. It should explain clearly what the allegation was and who the parties involved are.
  • Process: This section outlines the methods used to conduct the investigation, such as interviews, document reviews and site visits.
  • Findings: This section presents the factual findings of the investigation, including testimony gathered from witnesses and supporting documentation. Investigators should avoid sharing any unnecessary details and ensure they include the evidence that lead to the findings.
  • Analysis: This section provides an analysis of the findings, interpreting the evidence gathered in the investigation and applying relevant legal and policy frameworks. The analysis should highlight how the evidence and findings potentially breach rules or laws.
  • Recommendations: This section identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation’s existing systems and processes and provides clear and actionable recommendations for improvement.
  • Conclusion: This section summarises the investigation’s findings and recommendations and may include closing comments.

A thorough template can remove the need for investigators to remember every single detail they need to include in each section. Alternatively, an investigator may also use a checklist.

6. Get someone to read the report

If possible, it could be beneficial to get someone else involved in the case to read the investigative report. This additional step helps ensure accuracy, clarity and comprehensiveness. It is crucial that a person who already knows all details and has permission to access the documents is chosen rather than an outsider. Usually, this individual might be another investigator who assisted in the case. A fresh pair of eyes may help identify errors or omissions that the primary investigator may have overlooked, such as inconsistencies in the facts, ambiguous language, or incomplete information.

Moreover, having another person review the investigation report can help to validate and ensure the findings and conclusions are correctly presented in the report. They might also find bad phrasing or grammatical errors that the writer did not notice when proofreading. This additional review can enhance credibility and allow for more reliable recommendations.

Another person may also offer a different perspective or interpretation of the events being investigated. This additional insight could lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the situation, which can be valuable for determining appropriate responses or solutions. The better organised an investigative report looks, the more likely it is that it will be taken seriously and will be more effectively targeting the root cause of the problem.

To conclude

It is important that investigators understand which part of the investigative report they struggle with. It could be writing the whole document or just one section. Understanding this difference is essential for ensuring the investigator can find the correct way to improve, as an investigative report has many sections. Focusing on one area at a time can also help as the investigator can practice and feel more comfortable before moving on to the next one.

Polonious helps its clients with their investigative reports by automating a great deal of the report writing – Polonious can insert client, POI, and other information into template fields, as well as selectively insert contemporaneous notes, ID photos, surveillance/CCTV photos, and so on, all according to your custom designed templates. Additionally we keep all information and evidence securely stored for as long as it is needed.

We ensure that the confidentiality of all parties is protected and allow investigators to upload different types of files in our system, allowing for better flexibility. Moreover, investigators can set permissions for who is allowed to access the files or who can see certain case updates. This allows for parties only to see the information that is relevant to them. Do you want to know more? Request a demo!