Why writing well is important for Criminal Justice Practitioners

There are numerous ways that criminal justice practitioners can demonstrate to others that what they have to say is credible.

I would argue that there are two principle mechanisms. One is mastery of content and the other is through effective communication. The first approach includes understanding the concepts in your domain or specialization, and refraining from commenting on things you know absolutely nothing about.

For example, a police officer attends the training academy where they learn the basics of their profession, which involves not only what policing is all about, but the relevant skills. If they graduate, they serve a period of time under probation, hopefully under the tutelage of a qualified field training officer. If they successfully pass this next step, then s/he is accepted on to the force. Over time, the officer gains experience in different situations, and through periodic personnel evaluations learns to do their job better.

The other equally important mechanism is effective communication. We require our criminal justice practitioners to not only talk (orally) with members of the public, superiors and subordinates in various contexts, but to produce written communications in the form of reports. These documents have important implications in both criminal and civil matters.

If, for instance, a correctional officer submits a report that is used as evidence in a legal proceeding (e.g., administrative hearing, trial, etc.) and the officer has failed to be specific, or the communication is confusing, riddled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, then it may mean that a victim or perpetrator does not get the proper consideration that they need for judicial intervention. For instance, the person’s period of incarceration may be unnecessarily extended (thus depriving them of their liberty), or a person who has done grievous harm to another, is either given a reduced sentence, or unnecessarily released from custody.

Thus, it’s important for criminal justice practitioners to not only master the content, but to be effective communicators. I’m not going to discuss whether criminal justice instructors do a good job teaching their students this, but here are some very simple tips on how to improve your writing, that many practitioners for one reason or another either ignore or avoid.

First, start by spell and grammar checking your writing. The communication platform you use may not allow you to do this in an efficient manner. Thus, you need to copy and paste what you write into a writing software package that allows you to do this first, and then transfer back into the field where you submit.

Second, read your answers out loud before submitting.

Third, give yourself enough time. Write a rough draft. Come back to it an hour, or day, or week later and edit.

Fourth, search out free writing resources on the web.

Fifth, read a book (or two) preferably with writing exercises. Do them.

Sixth, short of hiring a professional editor, have someone else read through your writing and have them give you feedback.

Seventh, take formal or additional instruction in writing. Many organizations offer free workshops to assist their employees communication skills. (Sometimes they are call writing labs).

These suggestions are not exhaustive. They don’t cover improving oral communication skills, but these ideas should assist those who need some help to improve their writing.


Albuquerque Police Department recruit officer phase one field training report writing