Report Writing Activities for
the Criminal Justice Student
A Supplement to Curriculum Technology’s
CJ Communications in the USA
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Table of Contents
Objective vs. Subjective Writing 3
Using Active Voice in Police Reports 6
Chronological Writing in Police Reports 9
First Person Narrative and Other Pronoun Issues 13
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Objective Writing vs. Subjective Writing Key Activity Objectives
• Discern the key differences between objective and subjective writing • Understand when subjective language is acceptable • Provide an objective report for a diverse audience
Introduction Report writing must “tell a story” that complies with certain requirements that are not found in creative writing. One of the most important conditions is that the reporting officer must be “objective,” rather than “subjective,” in his reports.
Subjective writing is characterized by the author expressing opinions, feelings and, even in some cases, judgments. In objective writing, the author relates facts without imposing his own feelings or opinions into the narrative. When writing an official report, the author needs to be objective, without expressing any personal or professional opinions. Subjective writing has no basis in report writing, be it a news article or a police report, because the audience expects an unbiased account of events. Emotions affect our ability to think and make conclusions rationally. We may hold firmly to how people should be treated when they do something wrong, but when it directly affects us, our opinion of how serious the situation is, or how best to handle the situation is markedly different. Therefore, law enforcement reports in particular must communicate only the facts.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to be subjective and objective in a piece of non-‐fiction writing. If the author is writing an editorial piece about the effects of war, he may communicate objective information by providing statistical information concerning the cost of war in terms of money and lives. To make or emphasize a point, the editorial author may be subjective in adding how war had a devastating emotional effect on him or someone he knows. However, an editorial piece is, by design, based on one person’s opinion and/or experience, and is not held to the same factual standards of a news or police report.
For the purposes of report writing, individuals in the criminal justice field are expected to provide facts while withholding emotion. This allows the reporting officer to effectively provide others with the facts so that they can take the appropriate action.
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Example: A retired detective is accused of sexual assault. The investigating officer taking the initial report “filtered” out some information or down played the significance of information provided. The actions of others, i.e., supervisors, district attorneys, and judges rely on the information provided to them in reports to help determine that the most appropriate action is taken. If the initial information is faulty, the decisions based upon that information is faulty, and justice is not served.
Sometimes an author may not realize that they are being subjective in their reports. This usually happens with the author makes conclusions based upon observed behavior or information provided. Example:
During the interview, Ms. Wilson did not maintain eye contact and was constantly moving around in her chair. When asked if she could describe the person she saw take the money from the cash register, Ms. Wilson hesitated, took a couple of seconds to respond, and said she doesn’t think she can identify the person. When asked if she had seen the person before, Ms. Wilson looked away from me and in a soft voice said, “No.” It was very obvious that Ms. Wilson did not want to be talking to me about the crime and was very uncomfortable. When Ms. Wilson was asked to describe the person she saw take the money from the cash register, Ms. Wilson was evasive and lied to me when she said she could not identify the suspect. It was also obvious that Ms. Wilson knew the suspect because of her reaction when I asked her if she had seen the person before.
When we examine the example, the author is being objective in the first part of the report. He is reporting facts about the physical actions and the subject’s responses. But in the second paragraph, the author becomes subjective by making conclusions as to what those physical actions and responses mean. In such situations, the author should describe the facts relating to the subject’s actions and verbal responses, and allow the reader to conclude what those facts mean. There are a couple of key concepts to keep in mind when trying to ensure that the report is objective.
• Avoid making conclusions or inferences • Do not address emotions, thoughts, or feelings. Stay with the facts.
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• Don’t try to convince the reader of anything. Let the reader make conclusions based upon the facts in the report.
Report writing is not the place to be creative or make an emotional plea. Only by being objective can we have the best chance of rational, fair decisions being made. Sample of an Objective Report:
I bought a puppy yesterday. He is a purebred American Eskimo. He is only seven weeks old and has very white fluffy hair. When we first brought him home, he spent the first couple of hours lying in one of the corners of the kitchen. After that, he jumped on the couch and lied next to my wife and fell asleep.
Sample of a Subjective Report: I bought a puppy yesterday. When we went to look at the litter, the one I picked out had a fantastic personality. He ran up to me and acted as if we were long lost friends. When I got him home, he was a little afraid and spent the first couple of hours shivering in one of the corners of the kitchen. It was obvious that he was afraid and uncertain of his new surroundings. I had no doubt that he would become comfortable in a short period of time. Sure enough, a couple of hours later he jumped up on the couch and lied next to my wife. He was so content he fell asleep on her lap. He is going to be a fantastic dog.
Go to “YouTube” and type in “Job Interviews.” Click on the link for “Two Sample Interviews.” Review one of the interviews and write two summaries of the interview you watched. One report should be objective and the other should be subjective. Remember, in the subjective report, you are free to use emotions, conclusions, and opinions, while the objective report contains facts. In class, be prepared to discuss which of the two styles was easier to write and what made the other style harder. Present what you did in the objective report to lead the reader to a specific conclusion or if you simply reported the facts.