Chronological Writing in Police Reports

Chronological Writing in Police Reports

Key Activity Objectives:

• Develop a working knowledge of what constitutes a “chronological order style report”

• Demonstrate how a chronological order style report is an effective means of communicating what was done during the course of an investigation

• Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a chronological order style report.


The primary purpose of investigative reports is to effectively and accurately convey information from the officer (the author of the report) to the reader, who may be any number of people, including other officers, lawyers, paralegals and jury members. Quite simply, it is the author telling a story, but the story is restricted in ways that a novel is not. Effective report writing is comprised of several steps:

1. An incident occurs that required an officer to respond or take action 2. The officer responds, conducts an investigation, and takes notes 3. The officer writes a report and provides the report to specific audiences; such as

supervisors, detectives, and fellow officers 4. The “audience” reads the report and is able to obtain a “picture” of what


The investigative report must be factual, be devoid of bias, and provide detailed information concerning what the author saw, heard, and did. The report must also document how and from whom the information was obtained. The goal is to convey the information in such a manner that the reader can fully understand and follow along with what the author wrote. How that information is conveyed can be accomplished in a number of ways.

The two most common methods of investigative reporting are chronological order and logical order. Both are effective means of communicating with an audience, but each have different strengths and weaknesses. Logical order is an analytical approach. The logical order is divided into “topics,” such as how the crime was discovered, what was done during the course of the investigation, how the suspect was identified, and what evidence was seized. The logical order approach emphasizes what was done and learned, rather than what action occurred first.

Copyright 2011 Curriculum Technology, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 10

Chronological order is the style that is most frequently used in report writing. There are several benefits to using chronological order. We are used to giving and receiving information in a chronological manner, starting with what occurred first and continuing until the conclusion. Because of this structure, people are used to information that starts at the beginning and concludes at the end. Not only is it easier for the reader to follow; it is also easier for the author to write, because the information flows with each section tying to the preceding section.

Example: “I pulled up to the residence and got out of my vehicle. As I approached the residence, John Wilson, who identified himself as the person who called the police, came up to me. After speaking with Mr. Wilson, I went into the residence and contacted Janice Adams, the victim.”

If the officer started his report with the information he received from Ms. Adams, the audience will wonder what the officer did prior to meeting with Ms. Adams and how the officer learned of Ms. Adams in the first place.

When we talk about chronological order as it relates to investigative reports, there are two chronologies that come into play: the chronology as it pertains to the investigation, and the chronology as it pertains to the crime. The investigation chronology sets forth what first occurred in the investigation and follows through to the end. The crime chronology emphasizes the criminal’s actions from start to finish. It is important to keep in mind that either type of chronology can be effective, depending on what the author wants to emphasize. The other important consideration is that the author is not tied to only using one of the two types of chronology, but must choose which of the types will be the predominant style in the report.

Many police supervisors and prosecutors do not advocate use of the chronology order style. An officer using this style may write too much detail concerning aspects of a case that are not critical to the investigation. Police supervisors and prosecutors are more concerned with the “topics” of the investigation: what the responding officer did, what evidence was obtained, how did the investigation establish who the suspect was. Another criticism of the chronological order style is that the reporting officer has a tendency to start sentences with “I,” which strikes many readers as too informal for a legal document.

Example: “I got out of bed at 6 a.m. and went downstairs. I put on a pot of coffee and went outside and picked up the newspaper. I then came back into the house and I ate a bowl of cereal.”

With practice, the writer can overcome both these obstacles by realizing that using the first person, or “I,” simply cuts down on the number of words the reader has to cover. Learning to use transitional words, such as “immediately,” “after,” and “soon after,” also helps place

Copyright 2011 Curriculum Technology, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 11

events into perspective. Using transitional words, the sentence now reads, “Immediately after getting out of bed, I went downstairs. After putting on a pot of coffee, the newspaper was retrieved from outside. Sitting down at the kitchen table, I ate a bowl of cereal.”

Since chronologies deal with the order of events, they can be presented forward or reverse. When writing an investigative report, “going forward” starts with the discovery of the crime and proceeds from that event, while “going backward” starts with the investigation and goes in reverse to explore how the crime occurred.

Chronologies, as they pertain to the recording of investigative activities, shows a clear picture of an investigator’s actions and provides some insight as to why the investigator did what he did. In turn, they give the audience a chance to see how events evolved and the explanation behind certain actions.

Example: As read in court proceedings, an investigator filed a written report that, upon arrival at the scene, he spoke to a witness who saw the defendant threaten the victim. The officer wrote that he then obtained evidence that he submitted to the crime lab, and that the lab proved the evidence to be associated with the defendant. The reader of the report can readily understand why the officer concluded the defendant was the person who committed the crime.

To summarize, either the logical order style or the chronological order style may be used when submitting written reports, though the chronological style is more commonly utilized. It is important to remember that the report writer is not restricted to using only one style during the entire report. The overall style of the report may utilize the logical order style, but when the author describes the actual crime, such as a homicide, the chronological order style may be more effective. No matter which style is used, the ultimate goal is to effectively convey accurate information to the reader.

Copyright 2011 Curriculum Technology, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 12


Activity The following activity allows students to practice reporting in a chronological order. It also provides opportunities to use transitional words, first person narrative.

You are the training officer for new patrol officers assigned to the burglary unit. Using the chronological order style, describe how you teach the new patrol officer to investigate a burglary. Remember one of the criticisms of the chronological order style was that too much information might be provided. Attempt to convey the information in such a manner that the essence of the activity is conveyed, but the report isn’t bogged down with information that is irrelevant to what you are trying to convey to your audience. To help you get started, the following is offered as the first step: 1. You would read the offense report to learn what the patrol officer discovered

when he responded to the scene of the burglary. Discussion Questions

1. After completing the two exercises, what do you think are advantages and disadvantages of the chronological order style of report writing?

2. Do you think the chronological method is an effective method of conveying information? Why?

3. What types of reporting would not call for the chronology method?

Copyright 2011 Curriculum Technology, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 13

Place Your Order Here!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *