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The registration was more than two years out of date.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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Test Yourself: Objectivity

Objectivity (sticking strictly to observable, verifiable facts) is essential to criminal justice reporting. Objective details showcase your professionalism, and they can help prevent awkward moments in a court trial. Objectivity can even help you avoid a visit to court. An objective report prevents challenges because the facts are clearly laid out.

This activity will help you evaluate your own understanding of objectivity. Which of the following sentences are objective?

1.  On the east side of 10th Street I saw a WM in jeans and a red flannel shirt who was behaving suspiciously.

2.  Albert Johnson threatened his wife.

3.  I smelled beer on Carol Johnson’s breath.

4.  Inmate Palmer approached me with his fists clenched.

5.  I saw what might be a weapon in his left pocket.

6.  I saw an irregular bulge in his left pocket.

7.  Overturned bureau drawers were lying on the bedroom floor.

8.  I saw evidence of a break-in.

9.  Inmate Chapman looked nervous when I walked into his cell.

10.  Harmon’s hands trembled when I asked him to open his locker.

ANSWERS:

Words and phrases that lack objectivity are in red.

1.  On the east side of 10th Street I saw a WM in jeans and a red flannel shirt who was behaving suspiciously.

2.  Albert Johnson threatened his wife.

3.  I smelled beer on Carol Johnson’s breath. (Beer has a definite odor.)

4.  Inmate Palmer approached me with his fists clenched. (You can see clenched fists.)

5.  I saw what might be a weapon in his left pocket.

6.  I saw an irregular bulge in his left pocket.  (You can see an irregular bulge.)

7.  Overturned bureau drawers were lying on the bedroom floor. (You can see the drawers.)

8.  I saw evidence of a break-in.  (Sometimes perpetrators try to fake a break-in. You can’t assume that disorder was created by an intruder.)

9.  Inmate Chapman looked nervous when I walked into his cell. (What looks like nervous behavior to one person might seem normal to another observer.)

10.  Harmon’s hands trembled when I asked him to open his locker. (You can see trembling hands.)


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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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Plain English Tips

As a criminal justice professional, you strive to write efficiently and clearly. Here are some words and expressions that can (and should!) be simplified:

Avoid

Use Instead

utilize

use

single-click

click

for the purpose of

to

in the event that

if

if or when

if

the month of November

November

blue in color

blue

large in size

large

pull-down menu

menu

scream and yell

scream

brand-new

new

lower down

lower

PIN number

PIN

preplan

plan

preregister

register

For more suggestions about clarity and efficiency, go to www.PlainLanguage.gov.


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Quiz Yourself on Passive Voice

Professional criminal justice reports avoid passive voice because it does not answer an important question: Who performed the action?

If you’re testifying in court, trying to remember what happened six months ago, a passive-voice sentence in your report can be confusing:

A blood-stained t-shirt was found under a rosebush in the back yard. PASSIVE VOICE

Who found the t-shirt?

Here’s an active-voice version of this sentence that clearly states the facts:

I found a blood-stained t-shirt under a rosebush in the back yard. ACTIVE VOICE

(To learn how to identify passive voice, click here.)

Here’s a short quiz to see if you can identify passive-voice sentences. The answers are stated below.

  1. The roof was replaced two years ago.
  2. John and Mike replaced the roof.
  3. We were wondering if you’d like to spend a weekend at our beach house.
  4. The key can be found under a rock to the left of the front door.
  5. Taxis will be waiting at the bus station.
  6. Louis is interested in a career in the medical field.
  7. Registered nurses are being paid top salaries right now.
  8. Nurses are eagerly sought by hospitals everywhere.
  9. Louis was working in a low-paying service job.
  10. He was told there’s not much of a future for him there.

Here are the answers:

  1. The roof was replaced two years ago.  PASSIVE  [Who replaced it?]
  2. John and Mike replaced the roof.  ACTIVE
  3. We were wondering if you’d like to spend a weekend at our beach house.  ACTIVE
  4. The key can be found under a rock to the left of the front door.  PASSIVE  [Who will find it?]
  5. Taxis will be waiting at the bus station.  ACTIVE
  6. Louis is interested in a career in the medical field.  ACTIVE
  7. Registered nurses are being paid top salaries right now.  PASSIVE  [Who pays them?]
  8. Nurses are eagerly sought by hospitals everywhere.  PASSIVE  [Who seeks them?]
  9. Louis was working in a low-paying service job.  ACTIVE
  10. He was told there’s not much of a future for him there.  PASSIVE  [Who told him this?]

And here are active-voice rewrites of the passive-voice sentences:

1.  The landlord replaced the roof two years ago.

4.  You can find the key under a rock to the left of the front door.

7.  Hospitals are paying registered nurses top salaries right now.

8.  Hospitals everywhere are eagerly seeking nurses.

10.  His supervisor told him there’s not much of a future for him there.

 

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