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How to Write Like a Cop


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Police writing is different in some important ways from the writing you may have done in high school and college. You still need many of the usage and writing skills you learned in school, but you also need to master the special requirements of police reports.

Published in: Education

How to Write Like a Cop

  1. 1. How to Write Like a Cop by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  2. 2. How to Write Like a Cop by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  3. 3. You learned how to write police reports in a law enforcement training program. (Perhaps you’re taking a class right now.)
  4. 4. But you learned most of your writing skills in high school.
  5. 5. Perhaps you also took English courses in college.
  6. 6. You studied grammar, did workbook exercises, and wrote essays.
  7. 7. You learned how to use a library.
  8. 8. Those learning experiences were valuable and important...
  9. 9. …but not everything you learned in your English classes applies to police writing.
  10. 10. It’s important to understand what makes police reports different.
  11. 11. No matter how good your writing skills are…
  12. 12. …you also have to know how to write like a cop.
  13. 13. So let’s look at the differences.
  14. 14. English teachers value analytical thinking and sophisticated sentence patterns.
  15. 15. Police reports require facts and straightforward sentences.
  16. 16. The kind of writing that would make your English teacher happy won’t always work in a police report. Let’s look at a Sherlock Holmes story.
  17. 17. An English teacher would probably love this sentence from a Sherlock story about a murder victim:
  18. 18. But that sentence isn’t objective enough for a police report. This sentence is better:
  19. 19. The problem is the words in red that describe Sherlock’s opinions and conclusions.
  20. 20. Those descriptions are fine for a novel. But they DON’T belong in a police report.
  21. 21. A police report has to record facts—only the facts.
  22. 22. Good police writing can help you avoid problems if you have to go to court.
  23. 23. A defense attorney might argue with the thoughts, guesses, or hunches you included in a report.
  24. 24. But if your reports stick to observable facts, you’re much less likely to be challenged.
  25. 25. Here’s a statement that can get you into trouble: “The driver was obviously drunk.” Maybe she was sleepy, or texting, or looking down at a map.
  26. 26. But no one can argue with you if you reported what you saw. “The car crossed the yellow line three times in less than two minutes.”
  27. 27. Here are two sentences about a fight. Which one is suitable for a police report?
  28. 28. The first version isn’t an objective fact. You didn’t see the incident. You can’t be sure that Patel really backed into Finn’s car.
  29. 29. The second version is better because you wrote down only what Finn told you.
  30. 30. Here are two more tips for writing like a cop.
  31. 31. Forget about trying to impress your supervisor with your vocabulary. Use plain, everyday words.
  32. 32. Fancy words don’t prove that you’re smart. Good police work does.
  33. 33. And don’t waste time with unnecessary words and expressions.
  34. 34. Let’s review the principles that will help you write like a cop.
  35. 35. 1. Record only the facts. 2. Omit thoughts, reasoning, hunches, and conclusions. 3. Write plain, straightforward sentences.
  36. 36. 4. Choose plain, everyday words. 5. Avoid wasting time with unnecessary words and expressions.
  37. 37. Remember: To be a good writer, you need to hang onto many of the principles you learned in your English classes.
  38. 38. But you also need to learn to think...and write…like a cop.
  39. 39. You can learn more about report writing at
  40. 40. All the resources there are FREE:
  41. 41. And if you’re looking for a low-cost, practical book…
  42. 42. Criminal Justice Report Writing is available from for just $19.95. View a free sample online.
  43. 43. An e-book edition is available from for only $9.99.
  44. 44. A discount price is available for class sets (minimum five books). A free Instructor’s Manual is available for instructors and administrators. Send an e-mail request from your official account to jreynoldswrite at