Most disputes are settled out of court these days – I’ve seen more than 90% mentioned – and many of these are based on a forensic investigation and the expert’s report. This means the report is an important forensic task.
The report is written for the judicial process even though it doesn’t often go that far. This means a report for non-technical people. One that must be easy to read and understand the findings of the investigation.
It’s easy to write a report like this with the help that’s out there. My review of the literature produced the following list of characteristics of a well written expert report:
- Short, concrete words
- Declarative sentences
- Sequential sentences
- Thin paragraphs; not fat
- Few adverbs; almost none
- Few adjectives
- Jargon-free language
- Visually appealing pages
I’ve found over time that writing sequential sentences was tough enough. These are sentences where each picks up on a word or thought in the former, enlarges on it, and slowly tells the story of the forensic investigation.
Guidance on writing doesn’t get any better than On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 2006 by William Zinsser. The principles identified by the author also apply to expert reports. (Ref. 1)
This book by an American went to seven (7) editions before he went over the rainbow bridge in 2015. At the time he got a half page profile in one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail. Impressive. He urged clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.
Or guidance get any better than How to Write an Expert Witness Report, 2014 by Mangraviti, James J. et al – as long as you remember it provides guidance for American experts. (Ref. 2) Pick and chose the best advice and you’ll be well guided in another way to that by Zinsser.
If your expert does no more than read the eight page Executive Summary by Mangraviti, et al instead of all 560 pages, s/he will write a good expert report, helped by Zinsser. There are also some good paragraphs and sections in other chapters. But, be careful of some emphasis in this reference – the American way – on how to make your report powerful and persuasive.
Sorry, but you weren’t retained to persuade and impress. You’re there to tell the reader in an objective way about your thorough forensic investigation, no more, no less:
- The tasks you carried out during your forensic investigation,
- Why you carried out each task,
- The data you got from each,
- What you did during your analysis of the data,
- How the data from each task pointed to a cause,
- How the data from different tasks supported the data from others on a possible cause(s),
- What you found when you followed the evidence,
- How the cause of the failure or accident began to come into focus, off in the distance,
- The conclusions arising from your analysis, and,
- Your opinion on cause arising from your conclusions.
I have found over the years that writing well results in better analysis of data, like in “thinking on paper“. A nice fringe benefit of writing expert reports well.
The guidance in Zinsser and Mangraviti, Jr. et al will also ensure you meet the requirements of civil procedure rules governing experts, like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia.
This is as far as you need to go in expert report writing. You don’t need to go beyond Expert Report Writing 101. What’s out there will get you in trouble, particularly the American way. Keep it simple like in the lists above and keep the disputes out of court.
- Zinsser, William, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 7th edition, Harper Collins Publishers New York 2006
- Mangraviti, Jr., James J., Babitsky, Steven and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to Write An Expert Witness Report, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, MA 2014
- Strunk, Jr., William and White, E. B., The Elements of Style, 4th ed. Allan and Bacon 2000. Zinsser was inspired by this book, a book about pointers and admonitions: Do this. Don’t do that. What it didn’t address was how to apply those principles. How to write about people and places, science and technology, etc. That’s what Zinsser does in his book, On Writing Well.
(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. January 17, 2023 firstname.lastname@example.org)