L3R – 4.7 Elements of Written Reports

Elements of Written Reports

Report writing involves observing, recalling, and reporting information, which is collected and processed into a formal written report. This report offers a permanent overview of a temporary event. A well-written report can help to jog the memory of the security officer months after the fact. A security officer’s formal written report can end up with the client that hired the security company at an administrative hearing, or even read out loud as evidence in court.

The first step in writing the report is to decide whether your report will be written in the first or third person format:

  • First person is written from the perspective of a sole individual and uses “I” when relaying information concerning an event or scenario.
  • Third person is written from the omniscient perspective and uses he, she, they, or it to address any person, place, or thing.

I                              Characteristics of Well-Written Reports

Written communication is an integral part of an officer’s daily tasks. Clear, complete sentences in reports and other written documents make it easier for those referencing the documents to understand their content.

a.   Sentences

A sentence is a group of words that express a complete thought. It contains a subject and a predicate:

  • Subject – The person, place, object, or idea about which something is said.
    • Predicate – The part of the sentence that includes the verb and tells or asks about the subject of the sentence; the verb (or simple predicate) determines whether other words (such as objects and adverbs) are needed to complete sentence meaning.

Other parts of a sentence include:

  • Direct Object – The direct recipient of the action of the verb.
    • Indirect Object – The indirect recipient of the action of the verb, often identified by a preposition.
    • Preposition – A word that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence.
    • Prepositional Phrase – A group of words made up of a preposition, its object, and any of the object’s modifiers.

Examples of Sentences

  • He ran.
    • This has only a subject [he] and verb [ran]; the verb is the entire predicate.
  • She drives the truck.
    • This has a subject [she], verb [drives], and direct object, which receives the action [the truck].
  • We carried the groceries up the stairs.
    • This has a subject [we], verb [carried], direct object [groceries], and prepositional phrase [up the stairs].
  • The teacher gave her a test.
    • This has a subject [the teacher], verb [gave], indirect object, to or for whom the action is intended [her], and direct object [test].

B.   Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a group of words that expresses an incomplete thought and leaves out important components of the sentence.

A sentence fragment occurs:

  • when words are omitted due to the mind working faster than the hand, or
  • as a result of incorrect punctuation, such as a period in the middle of the idea rather than at the end.

Sentence fragments create confusion for the reader, who will have to spend time attempting to interpret the writer’s intent and may form incorrect assumptions. Complete sentences include the subject of the sentence as well as the verb and if necessary, the object of the sentence.

Example of Sentence Fragments
• Incorrect: “Had a great time at the get-together on Saturday.”
o Correction: “I had a great time at the get-together on Saturday.”

c. Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences cause similar confusion for the reader and occur when:

  • end-of-sentence punctuation is omitted, causing two or more sentences to be written as one, or
  • closely related sentences are combined as one using a comma, known as a comma splice.
    • This is especially common if the second sentence begins with a personal pronoun that refers to a noun in the first sentence.

Run-on Example

  • Incorrect: “The waiter forgot to put in our order, he apologized profusely.”
    • Correction: “The waiter forgot to put in our order. He apologized profusely.”

d.    Misplaced Modifier

A misplaced modifier occurs when a word that pertains to, or modifies, one word attaches itself to another due to incorrect placement. Again, the reader must try to understand the writer’s intent. When writing sentences, try to place each modifier as close as possible to the word it is modifying.

Misplaced Modifier Example

  • Incorrect: “The mayor was unable to shake the hands of her constituents wearing bulky winter gloves.
    • Correction: “Wearing bulky winter gloves, the mayor was unable to shake the hands of her constituents.”

e.   Double Negative

When two negative words are used in the same clause, the result is a double negative. Double negatives commonly involve a conjunction. Negative words that should be used singularly and not in pairs including the words:

  • no
  • not
  • never
  • none
  • no one
  • nobody
  • nothing
  • nowhere
  • neither

The following words are negative in meaning and should not be used in the same clause with any of the negative words listed above:

  • barely
  • scarcely
  • hardly

Double Negative Examples

  • Incorrect: “There’s not no time left.”
    • Correction: “There is no time left.”
  • Incorrect: “I can’t hardly see the road in this fog.”
    • Correction: “I can hardly see the road in this fog.”

f.   Passive and Active Voice

Using passive voice instead of active creates bulky sentences and, often, has less impact on the reader. When the verb is in the active voice, the subject performs the action. When the verb is in the passive voice, the subject receives the action.

Using active voice creates clear, strong sentences and emphasizes who is performing the action (thus creating accountability). However, if the person performing the action is unknown, the passive voice may be necessary.

Passive and Active Voice Examples

  • Passive: “The bystander was hit by a stray bullet.
    • Active: “A stray bullet hit the bystander.”
  • Passive: “The visitors’ names were not recorded.”
    • Active: “The front-desk attendant did not record the visitors’ names.”

G.   Quotation Marks

Quotation marks help the reader by setting off the words of the speaker. When quoting verbatim, use quotation marks. If not quoting verbatim, do not use quotation marks.

Quotation Mark Examples


  • Incorrect: Carl yawned and said, Let’s go.
    • Correction: Carl yawned and said, “Let’s go.”

Not Verbatim:

  • Incorrect: Carl yawned and said that “we should go.”
    • Correct: Carl yawned and said that we should go.

H.      Jargon

In reports and notes, avoid jargon, acronyms, and any terminology that is not common knowledge to the general public. If slang or jargon is used, it should set apart by quotation marks.

It is also important to define abbreviations. The first time an abbreviated word appears in a report, the word should be written out fully. Subsequent instances may be abbreviated once the abbreviation is initially defined.

Jargon Example

  • Incorrect: “As I got out of my patrol vehicle, the individual split northbound on King Street.”
    • Correct: “As I got out of my car, the individual ran northbound on King Street.”

II    5 W’s + 1 H

There are 6 basic questions that your reports should cover. They are often referred to as the 5 W’s + 1 H:

a. Who

Statements and evidence that explain evidence about the suspect such as:

Complete names with correct spelling.

  • Race, sex, hair color, eye color, approximate height, weight, age, and clothing description.
  • If a vehicle is involved, include the year, model, color, and license plate number.
  • Aliases used

Statements and evidence from witnesses and victims such as:

  • Complete names with correct spelling.
  • Occupations or participant information.
  • Driver license or other ID numbers if available.
  • Home and work addresses for witnesses and victims.
  • Contact numbers for someone that can get in touch with witnesses or victims.
b. What

Statements or evidence that explain:

  • Type of offense committed
  • Property involved
  • Witnesses
  • Actions
  • Means of travel, entry, etc.
c. When

Statements or evidence that explain:

  • When the offense happened.
  • When it was discovered.
  • When was it reported.
  • When was any evidence located.
  • When were witnesses or victims contacted.
  • When were arrests made.
  • What time of time of day.
d. Where

Statements or evidence that explain:

  • Locations of all offenses and evidence.
  • Any reference points used to determine distance.
  • Types of areas involved (residential, business, public area, etc.).
  • Where were the victims, witnesses, and suspects in relation to the crime.
  • Note the address where the incident occurred.
e. Why

Statements or evidence that support the reason the incident occurred.

  • Revenge
  • Drug addiction
  • Financial gain etc.

Do not make assumptions in your reports. It might appear that one person assaulted another because they were on drugs, but law enforcement could find out that it was an argument over payment and drugs had nothing to do with it.

f. How

Statements or evidence that explain:

  • How the offense occurred and how the persons involved come to be participants.
  • How the suspect approached, entered, or exited.
  • How the security officer or law enforcement was notified.
  • How scene and all those encountered appear.
  • Note any breaches in protocol or security at the time of the incident and other factors that might have led to the occurrence.

III     Accuracy

Your report must be accurate, concise, and written in a way giving readers a complete overview of the event. Do not fabricate, omit, or lie on your report.

Ensure your report is written in an objective manner and free from bias. Reports should be purely fact-based and free from your opinions. The report should be complete, clearly written, and legible.

It’s best to write your report in sequential order, starting with the beginning of the event and detailing each item as it occurred. Events should be documented in past tense because the events occurred in the past. Writing in this format will enable the reader to better understand the event as a whole.

Be sure and specify details. By being accurate and writing down every detail, you won’t ignore something that you didn’t realize would end up being important.

Be sure and to your reports before submitting them. This will help maintain your sense of professionalism as well as helping reduce misunderstandings from those who read your report.

Make sure you have the date and time on your report. Some companies just want a synopsis of the events of the shift. Some companies want a synopsis and a report. You need to know what the company policies and procedures are so that you can comply.

IV    Importance of Clearly Written Reports

Security reports of facility operations can describe anything from discovering broken lights in the parking lot to an actual assault taking place. Whether you are documenting the activity of the broken light or the assault, the same principles apply. To communicate effectively, your report must be clear, concise and informative.

Professionalism is critical because security reports may be reviewed by your supervisor, risk management, legal affairs, senior executives, or law enforcement. Security reports can also be used in lawsuits and court proceedings, so it is vital to write security reports effectively and completely.

Well-written security reports are more effective than sloppily written reports, which diminish your credibility.