Organizational and Analytical Skills
If your goal is to build a firm of investigators, organizational and analytical skills are essential. Even as a one-person operation, you may deal with more than one case at a time, and unless you have some ability to organize and prioritize, you may become overwhelmed and inefficient. Analytical skills make sense of case information.
Suppose your note-taking skills are excellent and your case notes extensive. This won't matter if you can't find them. Paperwork and filing isn't exciting, but if you don't do it, you'll end up with piles of paper. The longer you let those piles grow, the longer it will take to separate paperwork for quick access. Investigators have been known to scoop accumulated paper into boxes for storage, and years later spend hours digging through them because a case finally made it to court or to appeal. Touch paperwork as little as possible. Experts agree that the more times you touch a piece of paper, the more time you waste.
Make files for each case. When you have a piece of paper in hand, file it. When you remove a videotape or CD from your camcorder, put it with the case file. Organizational skills are about providing a place for everything and keeping everything in its place so you won't waste time searching for things.
Planning is a skill that allows you to focus on what's important, and helps you set aside interruptions that steal your day. List tomorrow's tasks in order of importance, then use this list to plan your time. Let the minutia go, or delegate if you have employees. If this seems impossible, keep an interruption log for a week, recording every crisis or interruption. At week's end, evaluate the log to determine which incidences could have been avoided, which could have been put off or delegated, and which should never be avoided. Plan to deal with such things in the future to recapture much-needed time. In the investigative world, time really is money, so plan your day and work your plan.
Using an intern can help keep you organized. Many community colleges and high schools have internship programs. Tapping into these can provide several hours of free help each week. Delegating tasks to the student intern will provide experience for her and freedom for you to concentrate on the priorities of your daily to-do lists.
For more information on organization, see these resources:
University of Illinois Counseling Center:
Harold Taylor Time Consultants:
Dr. Donald E. Wetmore's Productivity Institute:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Dr. Alan Lakeins
Working a case will often result in a mass of seemingly unrelated facts. Making sense of it requires the consideration of all possible problems and solutions using analytical or problem-solving skills. Traditionally, investigators have used deductive reasoning when solving cases. Logicians no longer consider the view of deduction proceeding from the general to the specific to be correct. It is correct, however, to say that deduction is based on a premise or premises. If a premise is incorrect, then the conclusion may be incorrect.
In a simplified example, if you begin with the premise that a man is having an affair yet you have no evidence aside from client suspicion, subsequent information may appear to lead to the truth of the premise. Essentially, the premise may color the way evidence is viewed. At the very least, beginning with the husband-is-untrue premise can cause the investigation to go down the wrong road long before finding the right road.
It's safer to begin with a broader premise, such as: the husband is doing something to cause his wife's suspicions. Working from this premise allows for gathered information to lead you where it will. The accumulated evidence may tell you that he is indeed having an affair or it may lead in a different direction. The husband may be working overtime, he may be hiding an unsavory habit such as drinking or gambling, or he may have another issue unrelated to infidelity.
Charts and graphs help in analyzing data. Software such as Inspiration can be an invaluable tool, allowing the investigator to chart relationships between people and information. Seeing facts on paper can reveal previously unrealized associations. With Inspiration, charts can be saved and new associations explored without losing the originals.
The MindTools Web site, (
This chapter has outlined many of the skills necessary for conducting investigations. Hopefully, you've gained confidence that you have the right stuff for success as a PI. If you are established in a different field, maybe you've learned that you have what it takes to complete your own investigations or choose an investigator. Perhaps seeking knowledge for knowledge's sake, you merely enjoyed the read. No matter how you intend to use this information, remember that anything can be learned, and anything learned can be improved upon.