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Communication Skills, Report Writing, and Courtroom Testimony for Forensic Analysts

Written Communications

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National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Good communicators are rarely at a loss for words. However, even the most gifted has an innate preference for speaking or writing. Regardless of your proclivities, organizing your thinking before putting "pen to paper" requires considerably more time and effort than arranging your thoughts for a speaking engagement covering the same material. This belief makes sense if you consider that most people spend significantly more time talking than they do writing reports. Further, our conversations typically align more closely with our thoughts, which occur nearly constantly. The informal phrasing and expressions commonly used while speaking are deemed inappropriate for writing, demanding the use of exceptional language. Finally, most professionals (other than writers) believe that writing is a means to an end rather than a skill to be developed and perfected over time. As a result, we only engage in technical writing when necessary.

Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines that may help organize your thoughts. The first is to begin with the takeaway—what is it that you want your audience to remember when they finish your report? If the list is longer than three broad items, you will need to pare them down to a manageable number. Additionally, be wary of setting your sights on specific postures or radical changes of opinion. Neither is likely unless your audience is highly motivated or easily influenced. Instead, boil your material down to its essence that can be articulated in a few short phrases that are effortlessly remembered. If you seek a modification of beliefs, concentrate on having them question the veracity of their positions, resulting in partial movement in the direction of interest. Finally, look for an opening discussion that captures their attention and causes them to want more, and select closing arguments that reinforce your primary opinions.

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