Tag Archives: report writing

Pronouns in Comparisons

Pronoun Rule 4 helps you use pronouns in comparisons. This rule helps you sort everyday word pairs like I/me, he/him, she/her, we/us, and they/them.

Before we review this rule, try these three sample sentences.

1.  Officer Gupta has been with the agency three years longer than (I, me).

2.  We have twice as many patrol cars as (they, them).

3.  I told Carole I want to handle domestic violence calls as well as (she, her).

Here are the answers. Notice that adding an extra word at the end will instantly help you choose the correct pronoun.

1.  Officer Gupta has been with the agency three years longer than I (have).

2.  We have twice as many patrol cars as they (do).

3.  I told Carole I want to handle domestic violence calls as well as she (does).

You don’t have to say the extra word aloud (usually am, is, are, has, have, does, or do).

One more tip: Use than, not then, in these comparisons:

The registration was more than two years out of date.  CORRECT

To learn more about Pronoun Rule 4, click  here.

Today’s Quiz ANSWER

The sentence is incorrect. Use passed when you’re writing about an action that already happened. (Thinking about that -ed ending can help.).

Here’s the corrected sentence:

The car passed me going 75 mph in a 50 mph zone. CORRECT

One more tip: Don’t confuse passed with pasted. It happens!

 

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Commas in Interrupter Sentences: Comma Rule 3 Practice

“Interrupter” sentences (Comma Rule 3) are useful when you’re writing about a person or a place in a criminal justice report, and they’re easy to punctuate: Just remember to use TWO commas. Click here to read about Comma Rule 3, and click here to watch a short video. Then try this quiz. Scroll down to check your answers. (Hint: Read each sentence aloud and listen for a change in your voice.)

1.  Citizens who don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them may be victimized by criminals.

2.  Tina Collier who just joined the force last year is already up for an award.

3.  We’re keeping an eye on Porter Street which has been a favorite location for drug dealers lately.

4.  The Universal Crime Reporting Handbook which I first heard about in the Academy is a great resource for officers.

5.  Dogs that aren’t leashed can be impounded.

6.  Oxycontin a controlled substance can be dangerous when used improperly.

7.  A person who’s never handled a weapon before can be trained to be an excellent officer.

8.  July one of the hottest months in the year always seems interminable to me.

9.  Cold weather which drives vagrants away from Northern climes always swells the population in the South.

10. Drivers who exceed the speed limit are liable to be ticketed.

The answers:

1.  Citizens who don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them may be victimized by criminals.  NO COMMAS

2.  Tina Collier, who just joined the force last year, is already up for an award.

3.  We’re keeping an eye on Porter Street, which has been a favorite location for drug dealers lately.

4.  The Universal Crime Reporting Handbook, which I first heard about in the Academy, is a great resource for officers.

5.  Dogs that aren’t leashed can be impounded.  NO COMMAS

6.  Oxycontin, a controlled substance, can be dangerous when used improperly.

7.  A person who’s never handled a weapon before can be trained to be an excellent officer.  NO COMMAS

8.  July, one of the hottest months in the year, always seems interminable to me.

9.  Cold weather, which drives vagrants away from Northern climes, always swells the population in the South.

10. Drivers who exceed the speed limit are liable to be ticketed.  NO COMMAS

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Think about a Courtroom

When you’re coping with a crisis on the street or in a correctional facility, you’re unlikely to stop and think about a courtroom or hearing room. When you sit down to write your report, however, you should mentally take yourself there. If you’re reporting a crime, legal considerations should shape what you write and how you write it.

What you need to remember is that your report can either support or weaken a case in front of a judge and jury.

Here are a few points to remember:

  • Be accurate. An attorney can do serious damage to your credibility if you’ve made mistakes. For example, don’t say “10 feet” unless you’re sure of the distance: “About 10 feet” is better–or “8 to 12 feet.”
  • Don’t mindread. You can’t know for sure what an offender was thinking, planning, or trying. Write down only what you saw: “Inmate Farrell picked up a chair and ran to the table where Hawkins was eating.” You can’t prove that Farrell intended to hit Hawkins with the chair, so don’t insert that information into your report.
  • Know your agency’s or institution’s policies. Should you save your notes, for example, or it is ok to destroy them? (Notes can be subpoenaed for court hearings.)
  • Make your report clear and readable so that it’s easy to refresh your memory if you have to go to court. Use names, not confusing terms like Victim 1, Suspect 2, and Witness 3. Use active voice so that it’s always clear who did what: A statement like “A baseball bat was found under the table” isn’t much use if you don’t know whether it was you or your partner who found it.

Think about these principles often, and make them a regular part of your writing process.

 

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The Perils of Mindreading

It happened to all of us when we were kids: During a tense moment, some adult (Mom, Dad, a teacher, a principal, or someone else in authority) ordered us to “Take that look off your face!”

What look? I was trying as hard as I could to be completely expressionless. And, since of course I couldn’t see myself, I had no idea (and still don’t, to this day) what that person saw. Defiance? Mockery? Anger? I’ll never know.

Incidents like that one teach a useful lesson: Don’t try to guess at another person’s intentions.

That principle is especially important to report writing. Labeling a person as “belligerent,” “hostile,” “confused,” “helpless,” or some other mental state is risky. In a court or disciplinary hearing, the person might come up with a totally different description and explanation, damaging your credibility.

The rule for report writing is the same one that professional writers use (and you are a professional writer, after all!): Show, don’t tell.

So, instead of writing that she was “driving erratically,” write down what she did: Crossed the center line three times in less than a minute, braked five times while approaching a stop sign. Don’t write that he was “belligerent”: Record exactly what he said to you. Note the signs that signaled to you that a witness was frightened: Darting eyes, trembling lips, shaking hands.

Train yourself to notice and remember what people around you are doing. That kind of practice will help you develop the descriptive skills needed for effective reports.

 

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Completeness

The year was 1903, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had just published another Sherlock Holmes story: “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.” It’s fun to read, but it certainly isn’t relevant to today’s police officers, right? After all, most modern forensic techniques hadn’t been discovered yet. Fingerprinting was brand new then and makes only one brief appearance in the story.

But maybe there’s something in the story for officers today. Let’s take a closer look.

The story is about a homicide, and for once the police were smarter than Holmes–or so they thought. Detective Lestrade, triumphant with the discovery of a bloody fingerprint on the wall, crows, “you must acknowledge that we have been a little in front of you this time, Mr. Holmes.”

Later, though, in a private moment with his friend Dr. Watson, Holmes says, “The fact is that there is one really serious flaw in this evidence to which our friend attaches so much importance.”

“Indeed, Holmes! What is it?”

“Only this: that I know that that mark was not there when I examined the hall yesterday.”

Gulp. At the end of the story Holmes once again finds the true killer. The thumbprint was a red herring, planted there to implicate the wrong man.

What’s the message for today’s officers? Here it is: Always document not just what you did, but what you found (or didn’t find). Writing “I looked for fingerprints” is meaningless unless you add “and found none.” Sometimes–as Holmes knew very well–what you don’t see is more important than what you do see. Write it down so that you’ll have evidence if you need it.

 

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Plurals of Names

As a police or corrections officer, you’re going to be writing people’s names in almost every report–an easy skill for most officers until they encounter plurals. It’s easy to write down what Cynthia Santos said or did. But what if you interview the whole family? There’s already an “s” at the end of Santos.

And simpler names can also present difficulties. How do you form the plural of Smith, Clark, Patterson, and similar names?

Help is on the way…along with a memory device.

Let’s start with words (not names) that end with “s” and see how they’re done:

boss     gas     kiss     virus     witness     iris

To form the plural, just add -es:

bosses     gases     kisses     viruses     witnesses     irises

Now let’s do the plurals of names ending in “s.” They’re done the same way: Just add –es.

Santos     Jones     Reynolds     Willis     Thomas     Lewis

Santoses     Joneses     Reynoldses     Willises     Thomases     Lewises

What about ordinary names that don’t end in “s”? Well, how do you form the plural of an ordinary word? You just add “s,” of course. Names work the same way:

Smith     Clark     Patterson     Riley     Brown

Smiths     Clarks     Pattersons     Rileys     Browns

For good measure, here are two tips:

  • If “Reynoldses” sounds odd to you (it does to me, even though it’s my family’s name!), just use the Reynolds family.
  • NEVER use an apostrophe to mean more-than-one. Apostrophes are for “of” expressions: Mr. Riley’s car was found in an empty lot two blocks away. CORRECT
 

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And the Answer Is… (A Coordinate Conjunction Quiz)

Simple words often create the most confusion for writers. The word and is a good example. When do you use a comma, and when do you omit it? Answer: Use the comma when you have a sentence on both sides of and. Otherwise omit it.
And remember that the comma goes before and, never after it. (To learn more, click here and read about Comma Rule 2.
This rule applies to every coordinate conjunction: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Try placing the commas yourself. Try this quiz, and then scroll down for the answers.
1.  Inmate Greene grabbed the garbage can lid and banged it on the mess hall door.
2. I talked to Jerry Whitman and Officer Barthes questioned his wife.
3.  The policy doesn’t make sense and we shouldn’t implement it.
4.  The bright lights disoriented Jeffords and the loud noise confused him.
5.  Myers failed both sobriety tests and I smelled beer on his breath.
6.  The shelter is overcrowded and does not provide enough services for domestic violence victims.
ANSWERS
1.  Inmate Greene grabbed the garbage can lid and banged it on the mess hall door.
2. I talked to Jerry Whitman, and Officer Barthes questioned his wife.  TWO SENTENCES
3.  The policy doesn’t make sense, and we shouldn’t implement it.  TWO SENTENCES 4.  The bright lights disoriented Jeffords, and the loud noise confused him.  TWO SENTENCES
5.  Myers failed both sobriety tests, and I smelled beer on his breath.  TWO SENTENCES
6.  The shelter is overcrowded and does not provide enough services for domestic violence victims.

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Hyphen or Comma?

Here’s a thorny little problem that comes up in police reports more often than you might expect: What punctuation mark do you use when you put two descriptive words (adjectives) together?

Here are some examples:

I finally found my long missing notes from last year’s conference.

It was a long tiring meeting.

That was a wrong headed decision from the mayor.

The academy needs to purchase more desks for left handed recruits.

My next door neighbor asked me about job openings in the department.

The captain brought back some new exciting ideas from the national meeting.

You have two choices in sentences like these: a hyphen (-) or a comma. How do you know which one to use?

Here’s how you decide: If the words go together, use a hyphen. If they don’t, use a comma.

middle-management opportunity

(It’s not a middle opportunity: “middle” goes with management. Use a hyphen.)

cold, windy night

(The night was cold and windy: Use a comma.)

It’s easier than it sounds! Let’s try it.

1.  I finally found my long missing notes from last year’s conference.

Are these long notes that are missing? No. Use a hyphen:

I finally found my long-missing notes from last year’s conference. CORRECT

2.  It was a long tiring meeting.

Was it a long meeting that was tiring? Yes. Use a comma:

It was a long, tiring meeting. CORRECT

3.  That was a wrong headed decision from the mayor.

Was it a wrong decision that was headed? No. Use a hyphen:

That was a wrong-headed decision from the mayor. CORRECT

4.  The academy needs to purchase more desks for left handed recruits.

Are these left recruits who are handed? No. Use a hyphen:

The academy needs to purchase more desks for left-handed recruits. CORRECT

5.  My next door neighbor asked me about job openings in the department.

Was this a next neighbor who’s a door? No. Use a hyphen:

My next-door neighbor asked me about job openings in the department. CORRECT

6.  The captain brought back some new exciting ideas from the national meeting.

Are these new ideas that are exciting? Yes. Use a comma:

The captain brought back some new, exciting ideas from the national meeting. CORRECT

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Who or Whom? Shedding Light on Two Confusing Words

Is it who or whom? “Who” and “whom” exasperate many officers when they’re writing police reports. Because we may not often hear “whom” used correctly, it can be difficult to figure out the difference between these two words.

Help is on the way!

“Whom” is like “him” (notice the final “m” that they both share). “Who” is like “he.”

Here’s a ridiculous little jingle, to the tune of “Tea for Two,” that might be helpful to remember:

Who for he

And whom for him

A good rule of thumb is to use who when you’re not sure which one is correct. But there’s a way you can ensure that you’ve chosen the correct word: Try plugging in he and him. If he works, use who. If him works better, use whom.

Take a look at these examples:

We’re trying to discover who had the combination to the safe. [Think: he had the combination to the safe. Who is correct.]

The officer whom did this should be commended. [Think: him did this. Nope! He sounds better. Use who.]

The neighbor who I talked to gave me a good description of the suspect. [Think: I talked to he. Wrong! I talked to him. Use whom.]

Here are the example sentences again, corrected as necessary:

We’re trying to discover who had the combination to the safe. CORRECT

The officer who did this should be commended. CORRECT

The neighbor whom I talked to gave me a good description of the suspect. CORRECT

Knowing whether it’s who or whom in a particular sentence increases your confidence and adds professionalism to your reports–a great boon to officers who want to write well.

 

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One Idea Per Sentence

Are long sentences bad – or good? It’s a question many officers wonder about, especially if they mistakenly believe that a long sentence is a good sentence.

That’s not true!

If you’re aiming to become a topnotch criminal justice writer, you would be wise to adopt a rule that many professional writers follow: One idea per sentence.

Shorter sentences bestow several advantages. First, they’re easier to read–a huge advantage when you’re busy preparing for a court or disciplinary hearing. Second, they have greater clarity than longer sentences, which can be confusing.

Most important, shorter sentences have fewer errors. As sentences get longer, the likelihood of subject/verb errors, parallelism mistakes, and dangling modifiers increases.

Short sentences don’t have to be choppy and juvenile. You can always join two short sentences with a semicolon (be sure to skip the second capital letter).

I searched the suspect. He had five hundred-dollar bills in his right pocket.

I searched the suspect; he had five hundred-dollar bills in his right pocket.

You can also use who or which to join sentences.

I searched the suspect. He had five hundred-dollar bills in his right pocket.

I searched the suspect, who had five hundred-dollar bills in his right pocket.

And if you know your comma rules (they’re not difficult!) you can choose from a variety of sentence patterns.

One of the best ways to write a sophisticated report without sacrificing clarity is to employ bullet style whenever you have a list of information. (Don’t try to write an entire report in bullets!) Here’s a paragraph in conventional sentence style:

I searched Dickert’s locker. I found three $20 bills between the pages of a Sports Illustrated magazine. There was a pair of dice in the pocket of a uniform shirt. I found five $10 bills between the pages of his Bible. I found three unopened decks of cards at the bottom of a laundry bag.

And here’s the same information in bullet style. (Each item begins with a “bullet”).

I searched Dickert’s locker and found:

  • three $20 bills between the pages of a Sports Illustrated magazine
  • a pair of dice in the pocket of a uniform shirt
  • five $10 bills between the pages of his Bible
  • three unopened decks of cards at the bottom of a laundry bag

Much better, isn’t it? (To listen to a podcast about bullet style, click here.)

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for the low price of $17.95 $16.71. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

 

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