Writing Technical Accident Reports
By Susie Wright
Owner of Wright's Typing Company Since 1978 Telephone (661) 821-1656
With acknowledgement to Carolyn Mair, Lynne Rutter and Matt Holland of Bournemouth University and Alwyn Partridge of Forensic Accident Investigation Training.
An Accident Investigation Report is not a document of prosecution or defense. It is a document that presents all the facts for or against, including observations, the author’s justifiable opinions along with clear, summarized findings. It must be the truth.
Learning to write technically correct, precise and easy to read Accident Investigation Reports requires a solid background and preparation for producing such a document. It must be detailed so that the results are well thought-out and carefully planned. Total honesty, integrity and credibility must be the standard for an investigator. The appearance of a report, starting from its cover and continuing to its end, including the way in which the information is set out and presented, will largely set the seal on how the report, (and the investigator) is perceived by the reader(s). If the document is difficult to read and/or impossible to understand, then the report and the investigator’s efforts are worthless. If however, the report is well written, sound, concise and most importantly truthful, then the competence of the investigator will shine through.
One point to keep in mind is that reports that unnecessarily include every minute detail, especially when it is irrelevant – will not be well received by any reader(s), court or attorney. If there is a need, original notes and other extraneous material can always be attached in copy form as an appendix. Providing nothing is hidden or undisclosed, there can be no requirement to put every irrelevant item within the report.
Stages of Preparation, Data Collection. Plan your research program. Predict the general content of the report and write the report outline, recording data methodically, taking into consideration how to present the data. If necessary, leave the rough draft for a few days to allow yourself to change to reader rather than author. Review the report organization, looking for a logical structure.
Analyzing and sorting results, Begin analysis as the data is collected, eliminating irrelevant data. Consider some preliminary (but not necessarily unchangeable) conclusions, writing them down and then sorting significant results into categories by priority but do not hide contradictory results. Think about graphical representations of the data, writing down significant points about each graphic, limiting your sentences to include the subject, scope and purpose of the report.
Utilize Descriptive Headings, such as Title page, Summary, List of Contents, Glossary, Introduction, Summary, Accident Investigation Report, Findings, Conclusions, Recommendations, Acknowledgements, References and Appendices ( if applicable).
Requirements of a Report. Write for your reader(s) in a clear and unambiguous manner, with mathematical symbols fully defined, figures and tables that are understandable, accurate, labeled and numbered. Be objective and honest with your reader, writing to express not impress. Describe your assumptions, probable errors and what you may not understand about the results. Avoid jargon, and remember to define acronyms and abbreviations. Presenting Data. Use figures and tables that add value to your report, presenting the data simply, while selecting how the data can best be presented. Do your readers need exact values? If so, tabulate your results. Are relative trends more important? If so, use graphs. Introduction: The introduction should focus your reader’s attention on the subject, purpose and scope of the report. The primary function of the introduction is to identify the exact subject of the report, why it was written and to tell your reader(s) what the report does and does not contain. Was the data produced, analyzed and the results summarized? Were conclusions drawn? Was there an initial theoretical model or was there a subsequent analytical model? Did the data create a new understanding? Is the report only an analysis? Are comparisons made?
Methods and Analysis Descriptions: Describe test procedures in enough detail that your reader(s) can judge the value of the results and could repeat the experiment. When using conventional calculations, reference the types of analysis made and include the final equation(s) used. Explain any discrepancies. Results and Discussion provide a well-organized and objective presentation of the results, using well-designed, clearly numbered, labeled tables and charts. The discussion and analysis of results show your conclusions are warranted. Explain and compare major conclusions with the results of similar work by others. The results and discussion section should present the data as concisely and clearly as possible. Clearly state any significant conclusion(s) and discuss the results. The major results and the conclusions, normally stated in both the Summary and the Conclusion section must be clearly established here. Any new or unusual result should be explained. Present a speculative discussion, outlining several possible causes of other findings, but alert your reader(s) that such a discussion is only speculative. Essential information must be presented. End the discussion with a short summary explaining the significance of your work. Do not use undefined symbols, cite equations, tables, figures, references, and appendixes.
Summary of Results, restates the major findings of the investigation along with all of the material presented in the main body of the report. Conclusions, should be general and presented in order of importance. When it is not possible to draw clear-cut conclusions based on the information provided by your investigation, you are free to give opinions, evaluate and recommend. The Abstract is usually a condensed form of the Summary but is unlikely to be a part of a normal Accident Investigation Report. Briefly state the main features of the report such as the purpose, scope and major findings. Acknowledgement of significant contributions by individuals other than the authors should be acknowledged. Appendices is used for important, but not essential material. Examine the main parts of your report for unusually long and detailed sections. If there is more than one appendix, identify them by capital letters, (A, B, C, etc.) in the order of their mention in the report.
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