How Do You Write a Good Report?
October 5, 2012
One of the biggest complaints from clients in the protection industry, (‘guard’) is the fact that the officers can’t write reports. I should say, being more specific, reports that are legible and understandable!
You may think that in this day and age that everyone who is working such a communication and customer service oriented field would know how to write. But, sadly, many don’t. Some officers don’t even know how to spell, even if they’ve went to and gaduated high skool!
Do I know all the answers to writing good reports for clients and ones that will stand up in court? Not by a long shot. What I’m about to impart on you is what I’ve learned in nearly 3 decades in the field. I’ve taught this way of writing reports and the few times my officers ended up in court, they have held up.
As you can tell by reading my blogs on a regular basis, I’m not a fanciful writer. I don’t write grammatically correct. Nor do I use a verbose or flowery language. This is the way you need to write good security reports.
The basic key in writing a good report for security, law enforcement, medical, or any other field where it may be read by some outside the field is very simple. Write your report like you’re talking and telling a friend what happened. Obviously, with a friend you’ll not be correct in speech or include the details you would here, such as the exact times, but be conversational.
You don’t need to add flowery language, much less college level words. Words like conflagration, contraindications, & industry jargon (flash Pulmonary edema (, and so on don’t need to be on a report that is meant for distribution to those outside your field of industry. If you have to go to court, all you’re going to do is confuse everyone in the court room and cause the procedure to go 10 times longer, while you explain.
Always spell out any abbreviations the first time you write them. As an example you would write your name and title this way’ security officer (s/o) Sollars. Spell it out and then put the abbreviation right after it.
Let’s start at the top of the report, or the bottom depending on the style and form you’re using. Each of the lines you’ll see at either end are self-explanatory, except for the time. A good officer should always put the time that they are writing the report in this spot, not the time the incident occurred. This is important for reasons that’ll become clear later.
And speaking of time, you should always use military time. This helps to avoid confusion all the way around. For officers who are unfamiliar with AM and PM as well as anyone who is reading the report. Another little note on this is that military time starts at 0001. It doesn’t start at 0000. A midnight shift (3rd shift) would start at 0001. And the 2nd shift (swing) would end at 2400, and no there is no lapse in coverage and no one loses any pay – you may be surprised at the idiots or a provocateur, I’ve managed in the past, but that is a story for another time.
Since we’re talking about time, let’s stay with that theme in the body of the report. One of the biggest things I ever ran into as an officer supervisor/manager is the time line in which my officers wrote their reports. No matter what happens it should always be written in chronological order as the officer has experienced it.
It should never be written as if the officer was omnipotent. If the incident happens at 0300 hours and the officer discovers it at 0400, then it has be written that it was discovered at 0400 not 0300.
Likewise, when the officer discovers details about the incident that he didn’t know about before the report was written then they need to write it down that way. If the incident happened at 0300 and they were told that Hank Whoever did it at 0700, then 0700 is when they found out, and the time they should put in the report as when they found out, not at the top of the report as if they knew it all along. And whether they should have or not, is not the issue.
One last thing on the time part of the report. ALWAYS use the word approx. when writing the times in. Why you ask? Because not everyone’s watch, clock, or time keeping device keeps the same time. By using the term approximately you keep both the officer and the report from being questioned about their time and veracity. I’ve had it happen on more than one occasion, especially at an unemployment hearing.
Enough of time, let’s move on to the style of the report. It should always be written in the 3rd person. Again, this will help alleviate any confusion as to who did what when. By saying that s/o Sollars discovered the side door unlocked at 0300 hours is better than saying that I found the door unlocked at 0300. And when you have multiple officers or individuals involved, it will definitely help keep the story line straight.
As for the formatting of the report, it should be indented as any regular paragraph would be, if the length warrants more than 1 paragraph. And not to mention too much on grammar and so on, but every line needs to be capitalized as it would normally.
This part of report writing will help keep the veracity of the officer, not to mention their intelligence from being questioned. Proper grammar (6th grade level) as well as spelling, punctuation, and the like should be monitored. Always have the officer have a dictionary close by when writing their reports. Every dollar store has cheap ones – buy one for every post.
At the bottom of the bottom of the report the officer needs to sign and date it. If allowed, then they also draw an X through the empty part of the report, to prevent someone else from writing and adding to it, after the fact. If not that, then maybe a line that says ‘end of report’.
Every single client, security company, and other companies that employ officers, have their own way they want their reports written. While I think it should be an industry standard, it’s not. Therefore, the officer needs to write their reports as the company or client wants them to. And whether I like it or not, that’s not the point.
These above tips are just a few of the tips I share and I’m hoping that will be useful to everyone reads them. Whether you’re in security or not, these should help clarify the report writing process.
As always, questions, comments, suggestions?