Using “However” Correctly in a Police Affidavit

On August 12, a Florida woman threw an Amazon Fire TV Cube at her husband. Police charged her with domestic battery. You can read the story and the probable cause affidavit by clicking the link.

I’m going to play detective here and make some guesses about the officer who wrote the affidavit. It’s someone who’s been to college, or had a superb English teacher in high school – or maybe it’s someone who’s done a lot of reading and has been thinking about becoming a professional writer.

In other words, this officer is a skilled writer. How do I know that? This sentence gives it away:

Some of the items just broke or spilled throughout the apartment; however, two of the objects, solid hard plastic cube (Alexa cube) approximately 2.5 inches all the way around and the other was a large metal Tervis cup (possibly 26 oz) struck Matthew on his face/head.

Excellent writing! Very few people use however correctly. Most people (not just officers) try to string sentences together with however and a comma. Here’s an example:

Jane assured me nothing was wrong, however I could see her hands shaking.  WRONG

You need a period or a semicolon:

Jane assured me nothing was wrong. However, I could see her hands shaking.  CORRECT

Jane assured me nothing was wrong; however, I could see her hands shaking.  CORRECT

But here’s what I also noted about the report. There are several errors. “Todays date” should be “today’s date” – and shouldn’t be mentioned at all (it’s already stated elsewhere on the affidavit).

There’s a passive voice sentence at the end: No marks were seen on her. Who was looking for them? Probably the officer. Own your observations and actions: “I didn’t see any marks on her.”

And take a look at this sentence:

Matthew had a cut on his right side of his face on the chin area, a large knot on the left side of his head and a cut on his Matthew went to towards her and hit her on the left side of the face/eye.

I suspect the officer was rushed and didn’t go back to fix this one. “A cut on his” runs into the next sentence. “To towards her” has an extra word.

If he had a cut on the left side of his eye, of course it was on his face. And what’s the difference between a chin and a chin area?

Saying what you mean is a great timesaver:

He had a cut on his chin. He had a cut on the left side of his eye.

Many officers are excellent writers. But no matter how good you are, errors can creep in. (I’m a professional writer myself, and my own mistakes sometimes surprise and embarrass me.)

Reread your report before you submit it. If it’s a complicated report – or you don’t always feel confident about your writing – compose it on a PC or Mac first. Use the spellchecker and grammar checker. Then – and only then – you’re ready to paste it into your laptop, read it one more time, and click submit.

Here’s an additional suggestion: ask a friend or fellow officer to read your report before you submit it. People often form an opinion of you based on your writing skills. Why not take an extra few minutes to ensure you’ve done an excellent report?


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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

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