I once reviewed of an organization’s investigation practices and found a wide range of competence and quality in the investigations, the reporting, and record keeping.
The Investigator’s notes must truly reflect what he did. It is remarkable how quickly the mind loses its ability to recall the details of events. The realisation that unrecorded events become forgotten or distorted with the passage of time was missing in the notes of most of the investigations I examined. The final report often described events that were not in the file notes. From this practice, questions arise about the nature of the sources used and when facts were uncovered.
It is prudent practice to ensure that investigation notes do not contain anything unrelated to the investigation. Nor is it wise to record derogatory data without recording its source. To do otherwise, risks a loss of objectivity that discredits investigation and the Investigator. However, I frequently found the subject referred to by pejorative terms that could not be attributed to any source. Also found in the file notes were grocery lists, telephone numbers of unrelated parties, the office lunch take-out order, and the telephone numbers of massage parlours and prostitutes entirely unrelated to the investigation.
One Investigator stood-out from the rest. When questioned about his practices, he admitted to pruning the deadwood from his files before the release of the final report. He also used 32 page notebooks for all his file notes – you know the type, the ones your kids use at school. This conveniently kept all his notes in an organized fashion. I checked Staples and found a package containing four of these for $0.77. I now use this excellent low-cost solution to “note pollution”.
This “pruning the deadwood” should extend to the electronic files. In the meta data of a final report, I found that a lawyer (at the organization’s law firm) had edited what became an investigation report. The file notes did not support the lawyer’s changes to the report, nor was the lawyer on the distribution list for the report.
In some environments, it is standard practice to use normal word processing applications to produce and then print a document, which is then scanned into PDF to avoid any embarrassing problems with meta data. Once printed and scanned, the original word processing file is deleted and overwritten.
Remember, the job’s not done until the paperwork is finished.