Writing blockade under investigative time pressure?

The clock’s ticking. Against us. At least that’s how it feels for the team when it comes to reporting in an investigation. Why are you talking about the report before we even investigated the subject? Quite simply: because I have the goal in mind.
The clock’s ticking. Against us. At least that’s how it feels for the team when it comes to reporting in an investigation. Why are you talking about the report before we even investigated the subject? Quite simply: because I have the goal in mind.
Time of reporting

One can imagine visually how the eyes roll when the subject of “report writing” is already given space during the development of the investigation or audit strategy. And a great deal. Depending on the respective investigation team, this early focus on the end product triggers question marks. However, my experience over the past 25 years has shown me that it is never too early to put the report on the agenda. My colleague said casually a few hours ago – and I can only confirm that when we talk about report writing: “Frictions should never be planned, they will come anyway”. The same applies to the report.


Pitfalls of reporting

I assume that we all undoubtedly have deep thoughts about the design and definition of so-called “scoping” – the investigation or testing order to be fulfilled in the narrower sense. The reason for this professional approach is the “expectation gap”, which is still often encountered and should be avoided as much as possible – or at least reduced. The devastating difference between the expectations of the client and the service provided by the contractor. This can occur within the framework of test or investigation mandates. 

Unfortunately, this deliberately chosen focus on eliminating the “expectation gap” does not always consider the final product of a test or examination in practice. Report writing is often given too little attention in this first phase of the process. The “expectation gap” that arises from this can take various forms. As an example, from practice, some areas are susceptible to pitfalls if expectations are not collected very explicitly:

– circle of addressees

– structural design

– circumference

– level of detail

– incorporation of evidence (references to evidence)

– formats

The list is not exhaustive, and I am convinced that you in your practice are confronted with these challenges again and again. Over the years, everyone will have worked out one or the other recipe for success for themselves and will constantly add something new to it. At least that’s how it works for us.


Expectations of the report

They all have expectations of either:

– the  audit or investigation you have commissioned

– the audit or investigation you have conducted

And it is obvious that both expectations are enormously high. On yourself (done by us) and on the others (commissioned). If these two high expectations are not congruent – or at least close – we all run the risk of being disappointed and finding ourselves in this “expectation gap”. This does not only cost time and money, but also a lot of nerves. Let us avoid this. A few first thoughts – directly from practice:

a)    Explicit consideration must be given to the fact that the comprehensibility of such reporting for a third party must be consistently ensured. There is always a potential danger that the reporters will lose themselves in detail and not create the overall context. Antidote: ensuring the so-called “big picture” again and again during the reporting process.

b)   The construction and thus the structure must be presented at the outset in the first phase of the examination and investigation and discussed with the client. Experience shows that changes will be made anyway, but you have a first common ground.

c)    The length of the report always triggers discussions. While some wish it to be as short as possible, others prefer to see whole books. Both client and contractor should be aware of these different expectations and explain how the assignment and the activities should be reflected in the report and its length.

d)   Do we already know who should read this report and whether this circle could be widened? If so, in which direction and with which other addressees? On this mental journey, the client should be picked up and possible scenarios derived.

e)   And last but not least: each client has his own ideas on how such a report should look visually. Let’s ask about that. This saves us a lot of coordination effort and, if necessary, the need for clarification at the end of the audit or investigation. I always say – I don’t care if the elephant should be pink or grey. As long as the content (elephant) corresponds to what we have collected during our test or examination – it shows the facts.

It is a fact that the earlier the report and its design can take on concrete form through clearly formulated expectations, the higher the chances of success in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. And this forward-looking work on reporting also has a nice side effect: Writing blockages during reporting can be eliminated. Writing under pressure becomes the exception. Because the constant process of reporting is already underway – sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground.

In this sense I wish you in all your efforts “a very clear goal in mind” – the fixation on a single possible way is mostly obstructive! Also, with the reporting of facts investigations.


Sonja Stirnimann

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter

Get notified about new articles