How to format an investigation report

Written by michele vrouvas
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How to format an investigation report
Properly formatted reports tell the complete story of an investigation. (financial report image by Christopher Hall from

With proper formatting, investigation reports offer clear roadmaps of investigations from start to finish. Introductory remarks establish historical context so readers understand the investigators’ objectives. An organised table of contents reveals the individual parts—such as methodology, setting and findings—that together tell an unabridged story. Results should be stated objectively. The report’s closing remarks should make appropriate references to key findings so that there is little doubt to readers about what the next step should be.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Design a cover page. Place the report’s title in the bottom right corner. Identify the entity requesting the report. Give the month and year the report was completed. Name the company or individual who performed the investigation and prepared the report. Provide the company's or individual's address and phone number.

  2. 2

    Identify where the investigation was performed. Some examples are the scene of a car accident, a waste disposal area and a construction site. Provide a street address and the county and state. Write a brief summary defining the type of investigation, whether criminal, environmental or accident.

  3. 3

    Identify standards the authors complied with to conduct the investigation and write the report. For example, “The investigation was performed in compliance with Police Officer’s Accident Re-Construction Regulations as defined in the Department’s Manual.”

  4. 4

    Prepare a certifications page. Have investigators and report writers certify that the information contained in the report is accurate and complete. Notarise all signatures.

  5. 5

    Create a table of contents. Divide report topics into introduction, physical setting, previous investigations, current investigation, findings, references, recommendations and appendices. Have subtitles with these topics to introduce the relevant text.

  6. 6

    Write an introduction that discusses the investigation’s purpose. Provide background information and state whether this investigation is part of a larger one. If so, describe the next step. For example, “This investigation was performed to determine whether enough evidence exists to charge one of the parties with criminal misconduct. The next step will be to present these findings to a grand jury.”

  7. 7

    Describe the physical setting of the investigation. Identify landmarks. For example, “The site is located ten miles south of the Anderson Memorial Hospital, on a densely wooded ten-acre tract of land ... ”

  8. 8

    Call the next section “Prior Investigations.” Identify who conducted prior investigations. Give titles and dates of prior reports. Briefly discuss prior findings. If applicable, explain how the prior findings differ from those in the current report.

  9. 9

    Create a section for “Current Investigation.” Identify investigators and procedures they followed. Identify any laboratories that performed tests on samples taken during the investigation. For example, “The control samples collected from seven monitoring wells on the property were analysed for quality control at Smith Laboratories.”

  10. 10

    Format a separate section devoted to “Findings.” Create separately titled subsections. For example, subsections might be titled “surface water results” or “soil boring logs.” Specify whether results are reported on tables or graphs and give corresponding page numbers.

  11. 11

    Summarise the investigation in a section for “Recommendations.” Discuss the significance of the findings and suggest further action, if necessary. For example, criminal investigators might conclude that more witness interviews are needed.

  12. 12

    Attach charts and tables in a section for “Appendices.” Attach transcribed interviews with parties and eyewitnesses.

  13. 13

    Leave a final section for “References.” Identify documents, manuals and regulations consulted by investigators.

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