I Advise You to Read This

Ralph Shortey is a member of the Oklahoma Senate. On March 9 he was found in a motel room with an underage boy, and Shortey has been charged with engaging in child prostitution. You can read the police report online.

Overall it is a well-written report. Sentences are clear and objective. It is largely free of jargon and written in active voice – even at the end, where many officers fall into passive voice. The officer found a Kindle that may be useful in the investigation. Here’s what the report says:

I later logged the Kindle into property as evidence.  ACTIVE VOICE

But the report also features two common writing habits that need to disappear from police reports.

  1. Inefficiency. In most reports, you don’t need to record your questions. Just write what the victim, suspect, or witness said.

You can see the difference for yourself. Here’s an excerpt from the police report (46 words):

I asked X why he was there in the hotel room and he advised he was just there to hang out with his friend. I asked him what his friend’s name was and he advised his name was Brian, but did not provide a last name.

And here’s the same information, written more efficiently (29 words):

X told me he was just hanging out with his friend in the hotel room. He said his friend’s name was Brian. He did not provide a last name.

2. The other practice is a persistent problem with police reports: Using advised instead of said. It is an annoying habit – and one that can cause problems in official documents.

Said is a proper word that professional men and women use all the time. But for some reason, many police officers think they have to use advised instead. (Advise should be reserved for situations when you give advice, suggest, or counsel someone.)

Would you go to a restaurant and “advise” the server that you wanted a steak? Of course not. But many police officers – too many – write that way.

Here’s one reason why advise is a bad choice. If you climb the career ladder, you’re going to be sending written communications to people who don’t work in law enforcement. They’re going to wonder why you never figured out what advise means. 

And consider this. Serious problems could arise if you write advised instead of told in a disciplinary situation. Suppose someone on your staff has a problem with punctuality. Would you advise her to be on time – or would you tell her?

Do you really want her to argue in a hearing later on that you only suggested that she be on time? You’re going to have difficulty making your case if your written report says that you advised her to be punctual instead of telling her.

Words matter. If you’re an instructor or an administrator, part of your job is to make sure that everyone uses words precisely. Loosey-goosey language habits have no place in a professional workplace. A good starting point is to make sure everyone knows what advise means – and uses it correctly.

 

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