Archive for the 'Report Writing' Category

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Three Dimensions of Note-taking

I have written previously on taking notes using audio, images, and handwritten notes. Now I am contemplating taking video notes using a simple camcorder called the FlipUltra. This seems like a briefcase-friendly device for this purpose. The problem with the alternatives is the size and weight of the device.  This simple plug-and-play device is good for conducting interviews, taking street scenes, and other recordings that use-up less than 60 minutes of recording time. Using the FlipUltra should be a lot easier and give better results than using my point-and-shoot Lumix camera and of course, longer recording time.

Disappearing & Invisible Ink

MOSSAD PEN

This writes like a normal pen, but if you heat the paper the written words disappear. Putting the paper in the freezer makes the words reappear.

RUSSIAN KGB DISAPPEARING INK PEN

This pen features a special gel ink developed by real KGB scientists during the Cold War (and made in Russia), that disappears completely. Because it is a gel pen, you don’t need to press hard which prevents paper indenting.

UV Sensitive INK PEN

I guess every good spy needs to have his missives disappear, but I  need to secretly mark documents for later reference.

Pens like this have been  around for quite some time.  The Fisher Space Pen was at one time offered with UV Sensitive Ink refills. I occasionally use UV sensitive ink to mark important documents for security purposes.

Quantity Over Quality

In the past US security clearance investigations were falsified. Now we learn that they have too many background checks to do, and not enough time to do them and the solution is to produce factually correct but incomplete reports. We also see that this job is a “shredder, and agents are grist for the mill,”.

 “This job is a shredder, and agents are grist for the mill,” said K.C. Smith, an OPM investigator in Austin, Texas, with 23 years of experience. “There are people who are getting sick, under a lot of stress, their family life is suffering. They are just beat down.”

Investigators say it is common practice to spend nights, weekends and holidays writing up reports, and some don’t report the overtime they work for fear it will be held against them in their performance evaluations.

 Investigators say it is common practice to spend nights, weekends and holidays writing up reports, and some don’t report the overtime they work for fear it will be held against them in their performance evaluations.

Some say their superiors have made it clear that the priority is to close cases, and they say they have felt pressure to turn in even incomplete cases that lack crucial interviews or records if it will help them keep their numbers up. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the Defense Department’s security clearance process is plagued by such incomplete cases: 87 percent of the 3,500 initial top-secret security clearance cases Defense approved last year were missing at least one interview or important record.

Investigators are rewarded for investigation reports, not for doing proper investigations.

Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

Poor writing is not a recent problem. In 1946, George Orwell wrote his essay, Politics and the English Language, about his five rules of writing effectively.  Orwell concluded that if you follow his five rules, then you would distinguish yourself by clearly communicating your ideas.

Orwell’s Rules

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech seen in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Texter

Texter saves you countless keystrokes by replacing abbreviations with commonly used phrases that you define. It runs in the Windows system tray and works with applications you’re typing in. It can also set return-to markers for your cursor and insert clipboard contents into your replacement text, in addition to more advanced keyboard macros.

How did I ever live without this?

Fact Checking

Every writer, reporter, and investigator should read the article entitled Checkpoint by award-winning author John McPhee in the Feb. 9-16, 2009 issue of New Yorker Magazine . The abstract is available, but you must be a subscriber to read the full article online. Of course, you could go to the library and read the article, or just buy the magazine.

Open Channel D

The Pen Communicator from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series would connect agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin with U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York City if they said the phrase “Open Channel D”.  It also included amnesia inducer and electronic scanner functions.

Now we have the Pulse smartpen that records conversations and indexes them to what you write using special notebook paper. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways one might use this during investigations.

Secret Laser Printer ID Codes

This is not a new issue. A 2004 PC World article described the technology. In February, 2008, I wrote about the EU concerns that these secret printer ID codes may break EU Privacy laws. The EFF has a list of the printers that print these secret codes used by the US government to match a document to the laser printer that produced it.

Another article about this appeared in USA Today a few days ago.

Printer dots raise privacy concerns

The dots, invisible to the naked eye, can be seen using a blue LED light and are used by authorities such as the Secret Service to investigate counterfeit bills made with laser printers…

Privacy advocates worry that the little-known technology could ensnare political dissidents, whistle-blowers or anyone who prints materials that authorities want to track.

The dots are produced only on laser devices and not ink-jet printers, which are most commonly used at home…

As an investigator, this might present an opportunity if the dot pattern is consistent enough to be matched to a particular printer or printer type without being able to decode the dots. If this were the case, then you might not need the ability to decode the dots in some instances. For example, at a company with many different types of laser printers. The process of elimination might indicate which printer(s) could have created a document.

Three Dimensions of Note-taking

Steve Osborne’s article, Ultimate Note-Taking: Capture Text, Audio and Visual Notes, provides some good pointers on taking good notes using audio, images, and handwritten notes.

Don’t be Sloppy with Metadata or You’ll Get This

Kroll’s sleuths are more Clouseau than Columbo

Inspector Clouseau is alive and well, and he works for Kroll Associates, the corporate spies who are supposed to specialise in finding, and keeping, company secrets.

…in fact, it is so boring that after downloading it I took to reading the ‘metadata’ concealed with the electronic document that tells you who wrote the report, why and when.The results were considerably more interesting than you might imagine. The report’s ‘properties’ field listed three Texas-based oil and gas exploration companies and the names of seven men – none of which has anything to do with the North Carolina Highway Patrol. What is more, the subject line mentioned the term ‘due diligence investigation’, which is corporatespeak for the type of inquiry often carried out by firms like Kroll when a company is considering a takeover.

Paperless Office?

I don’t believe in the paperless office. I remember a client who tried to impose the “paperless office”. Employees kept paper files in their car trunks and they would sneak out to the parking lot to review critical paper files and notes throughout the day.

However, we can streamline how we handle paper files. Here are some good articles on the subject.

  • Paperless office is pure fiction: report
  • Is Paperless Possible?
  • 6 tips for a ‘paperless’ office
  • 12 Tips for an Organized Desk
  • “Paperless Myth: Rumours of Paper’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” By Ulla de Stricker
  • “Why I Prefer Hardcopy” By Katrina Hughes
  • The Write Resource

    This is something that makes me think, “why didn’t I think of that?”. I found it on the Sources And Methods blog.

    Newsroom101.com. This site has a ton of easy to do exercises to improve your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Designed for journalists (with the AP style in mind) the site is almost just as useful to intelligence analysts who have to learn to write in the concise style of a journalist. I also like the way the exercises are put together. If you get the right answer, the site doesn’t bore you with the details. If you get the wrong answer, however, the site lets you know what you did wrong and why immediately.

    Secret Sources Versus Open Sources

    Secret sources always introduce reliability problems into an investigation or research project. For example, is the source lying; does the source even know what he’s talking about; is the information old; and is this a trick of some kind? Is the secret source doing something illegal to obtain the information?

    Open sources, on the other hand, can be fact-checked in real-time through multiple sources. Open sources can be properly identified and the collection method can be explained fully.

    Writing is Hard Work

    Anybody who writes reports should have some books at hand to learn from, and for reference.

    My first and best recommendation is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Then a serious study of The Modern Researcher by Jacques Barzun is a must. Barzun may not be pleasant reading, but he has guided untold graduate students successfully through the theses writing process. If you haven’t noticed, good investigation reporting has a lot in common with academic writing.

    The Oxford English Dictionary, in some form, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage are absolutely necessary reference works. Fowler’s sorts out questions of usage. For example, when does one use licence instead of license (the first is a noun, while the second is a verb) or when to use iterate, reiterate, and reiterant.

    Three more books make my list of required reading in this area:

    • The Craft of Research by Booth, et al.
    • A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Turabian, et al. (an easier read than Barzun)
    • How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia. An excellent section of how to avoid pompous writing is worth the price of the book alone.

    An article titled THE BOSS CAN’T WRITE by Philip Quinn, appearing in the Financial Post on Wednesday, November 14, 2007, illustrates the difficulties faced by employees and businesses due to poor literacy skills.