Saturday, October 24, 2009

Writing it right. (security report-writing).

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As you arrive for work one morning, you are told the general manager wants a briefing in 30 minutes about the most recent computer theft. You find the security officer's report in your morning mail. After reading it, you realize you have a report-writing problem to correct.

Increasing demands on security managers require that they be constantly aware of problems among their forces and always looking for ways to solve them.

Managers must provide a quality service, often with reduced resources, a limited pool of qualified personnel, and a limited budget. These constraints apply to the manager of a department with company employees performing all security functions and the project manager or the guard company manager supplying the uniformed presence on a contractual basis.

It would be beneficial to all in the security field if every applicant were able to write effectively, efficiently, and accurately. Unfortunately, that is not the case in every situation.

What is more likely is that a report will be short and without much substance, contain misspelled words, and require a follow-up check by a supervisor, who will have to spend valuable time sorting out what happened. Then the supervisor will have to make the officer rewrite the report or do it himself or herself. The value of a good training program becomes apparent.

A successful training program is often measured by the performance of its graduates, so a program should include training for those who will do the work as well as for those who will evaluate the work.

Fortunately, a report-writing system exists that is easy to teach, implement, and use an d might improve your personnel's writing ability. This system does not require a great deal of time to learn, and it is not expensive. It simply requires a back-to-basics approach.

The first step is to recognize that despite the many differences in how report are written similarities exist as well. Reports have two basic components: a face sheet, or fill-in-the-blanks section, and a narrative, or body. Almost all reporting systems us one or the other, or a combination of both, and each has a specific purpose.

Face sheets have two functions. One is to organize information, and the other is to collect statistics. Following a format can help ensure that all the necessary identifying information is collected.

The statistical information on a report face sheet can be used to identify trends or patterns of events. This information can help forecast the need to assign personnel in a certain area or the need to adjust assigned activities.

These statistics might also identify areas needing increased security protection or indicate areas for procedural changes that could improve the security teams' efficiency. Analyzing this statistical information can give a quick assessment of losses.

Completing a face sheet should be a quick and simple process. The process is easy when the writer is familiar with what information is required for filing in the blanks and the order in which it is needed.

Knowing what is needed and when allows the writer to ask specific questions during an investigation that parallel the face sheet. The writer should then be able to transfer his or her notes quickly and directly to the report form.

The narrative portion of the report requires the officer to organize his or her thoughts in concise, understandable manner and write the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the incident.

Traditionally, this is the part of the report that causes the most difficulty for officers because there are many choices to make about how to complete it. How much or how little should be written? How to begin and when to end? How refer to the people in the report and to themselves.

Some Managers confuse a poor investigation with a poor report. If a report clearly, concisely, and accurately describes what happened, who did it, and how it occurred, it is a good report. If the report fails to identify people involved in the incident, the status and locations of evidence or information, or when the event happened, it is quite possibly an investigative problem and not a report-writing problem.

One workable report-writing system used by many investigative agencies is based on six basic rules.

Write in the first person. The first person allows writers to refer to themselves as "I" or "me". This is preferable to phrases like, "the undersigned," "investigating officer," or "Officer Brown." The writer name will appear at the bottom of the report, making it clear who conducted the investigation.

Not only s the first person easier to write and read, t is the shortest way for the writer to refer to himself or herself. This saves time for the reporting officer and for those who read and use the report.

Use the past tense. The events an officer writes about have already occurred. Since they are historical, it is proper to refer to them in the past tense. Using the past tense also adds consistency and professionalism to the report and will eliminate the problem of confusing the reader by mixing verb tenses.

Keep matters in chronological order beginning with the date, time, and how the report writer got involved. Writing in chronological order allows the officer to report what happened in the order in which event occurred. Beginning the report with the date, time, and how he or she got involved eliminates one of the biggest problems facing any writer - how to get started. This consistent way of beginning also allows the writer to follow one rule regardless of whether the report has a face sheet.

Use the active voice. Writing in the active voice means the writer will use fewer words to describe what happened than if the passive voice were used. The active voice requires the writer to tell who is doing something before describing what is being done.

For example, "I found the door standing open," or "Jones found the briefcase in the lobby." In these examples, "I"and "Jones" are the doers and "finding" is the action. Consistently using the active voice helps keep reports clear and understandable.

Select short, concise words. Writers selecting short, concise words with clear meaning usually produce reports that are easy to write, read, and understand. Choosing words like "about" instead of "approximately,""saw" instead of "observed," and "said" instead of "indicated" keeps the report from becoming burdensome to read and use.

Use facts, not opinions to describe what happened. Facts can be proven. Opinions are viewpoints we think are true but have no way of proving. Many report writers confuse the two. It might be factually correct in the first example to say, "He was sweating, his mouth was dry, and he continually looked around." In the second example, it would be appropriate for the officer to write what the man said and let the reader form his or her own opinion about the veracity of the statement.

Following these rules should help improve an officer's report and make your job as a manager easier because you will get more information sooner and in a more understandable manner. Your supervisors will find it easier to evaluate an officer's performance because the reports they read will clearly describe what was done, how, and in what order.

Normally, a change in process or procedure results in uncertainty and questions about the new system. Having supervisors who are well t rained in the new system and who can answer questions should help ease the transition.

A key to success in implementing a program is to train everyone who will be exposed to it. Implementing such a report-writing system is a five-step process.

1. Decide what format to use and what kind of guidelines to follow.

2. Develop rules for narrative writing

3. Write sample reports on the new reports forms. Try rewriting some existing reports using the narrative writing rules.

4. Train management, staff, and supervisors before line officers.

5. Use staff and supervisors for initial line-officer training and for periodic in-service training.

The initial training period can be completed in one hour, and the success of the program will be immediately apparent. Your officers will have sample reports, written in an approved format and style, to use as examples.

Your supervisors will have tangible criteria with which to evaluate and train their subordinates. You will have reports that tell what happened in a readable and easy to understand manner.

Together, these add up to a solution to your report-writing problem - one that is easy to implement, easy to use, and easy to evaluate. It's just a matter of getting back to the basics.

Source Citation:Biggs, Michael. "Writing it right." Security Management 36.n5 (May 1992): 70(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 24 Oct. 2009

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