Report Writing Made Simple

Use technology and time tested techniques to improve your reports.

Today’s technology has made it a lot easier for officers to write and submit their reports. But just because it appears easier, doesn’t mean it will be accurate. A keyboard still needs a human’s input.

I don’t know what kind of report writing software or records management system you’re using, so there will be some variables. First and foremost, fully understand all of the systems tools or “bells and whistles.” Even if you’re like me and not a “hot key” kinda guy, you still need to learn all about the system to lessen your workload.

Let me caution you about spelling and grammar checks. In police work, we use police jargon, quotes of “street language,” foreign language phrases, and Latin legalese. Don’t expect all of this to be in the system’s memory banks. You may have to actually spell the word or phrase yourself. If so, make sure it’s correct if you add it to the system dictionary. Nothing is more embarrassing that to have the wrong word or constant misspellings in your work.

Grammar and punctuation checks are the same. For a direct quote, be sure to use the quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quote. Some systems will miss this one. Don’t allow yourself to think that the system’s grammar check is the final proof. Read your work before you submit it. If you have to print it out to read it on paper, fine. Some can’t read or proof on a screen. No system is going to be perfect for proofreading; this is required work of you and your sergeant.

If your system allows you to read word count, see if it has the longest sentence count. Police officers are the world’s worst for long sentences. If it is more than 20 words (a good base line), consider rewriting it. Oftentimes, it will be a reference to a criminal code, which is fine. If you’re writing a sentence that turns into a paragraph, go back and rewrite. Periods are free; use all you need.

Save your work often. If the system allows you to set a timed save, use it. Nothing in the world is more frustrating than typing a long narrative, getting up for a coffee, and having one of the patrol station fairies hit a key that erases your work. Save often!

Finally, don’t attempt to condense a report to where there are omissions or quality is threatened. Yes, your agency may have several gifted officers that can put a major case on one page, writing up the sides and print so small an electron microscope was required. You can sit and type and not worry about fitting it onto one crummy report written in pen.

Again, no pen-writing cop ever had it this great or correct, so enjoy and use the tools to your benefit.

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William “Bill” Harvey is the chief of the Ephrata (Pa.) Police Department. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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