Blog Post

Applying 5Ws and 1H to Investigative Reports and Presentations


Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola, CFE, CPA

Some months ago, I was hosting a weekly virtual class and talked about the 5Ws and 1H of writing — What, Why, Who, Where, When, and How.

I learned this concept from a former boss while working on an investigation and it’s a tool commonly used by journalists when writing stories, researchers and psychologists when assessing cases. These occupations can be similar to investigators in that they all strive to unearth issues as well as understand the psychology behind an individual’s actions.

How it applies to investigative reports

Typically, every investigation revolves around thorough fact finding, which the investigator documents in a report. There may be a pre-approved list of investigations to conduct or unplanned requests may come in as the financial year progresses. The basic core of case management is that there is an allegation or suspicion that needs to be investigated, an investigator uncovers evidence and finally they present their findings in a report to end users. Let’s look at how you can apply the 5Ws and 1H to planning, reporting and presenting your findings in an investigation.

Questions for planning the investigation

  • What – What is the purpose of this investigation? What is the allegation? What happened? What parties were involved (stakeholders)? What will I need in order to look into the allegation (what resources)? What policies, procedures or laws were potentially breached?

  • Why – Why am I looking into this (investigation mandate)? Why did this occur (systemic gaps or opportunities in the Fraud Triangle)? Why did actors in the case do what they did (motive or incentive in the Fraud Triangle)?

  • Who – Who is involved? Who should I speak to (for interviewing)? Who am I reporting to? Who is privileged to the investigation? Who is working with me (colleague, working alone, subject matter expert or external provider)?

  • Where – Where did the event(s) occur (internal and external locations)? Where did the case emanate from (board-approved list for the year, whistleblower’s portal, external request, etc.)? Where could the case end (internal disciplinary panel, regulator, media interest case or court case)?

  • When – When did the incident(s) occur? When was the allegation made? When is my report due (timeline, notes for mandates)?

  • How – How will I conduct the investigation (methodology, procedures and investigative plan)? How will evidence be preserved? How will I present my findings once I’ve documented them in writing (through speech narration, presentation or written)?

Questions to answer in your report of the investigation

After you complete the fieldwork and evidence gathering, you need to draft the report .Here are more considerations the 5Ws and 1H bring:

  • What was the outcome of the investigation? What allegations seem to be correct based on your findings? What were the limitations of the investigation? What are the implications for the company?

  • Why did the fraud occur? Why were the perpetrators motivated to do it?

  • Who is the report addressed to (liability clause)? Who was directly involved in the fraud? Who may have allowed the fraud to occur, but did not have direct ties to it?

  • Where did the event(s) occur? (You may include a map of the locations in your report).

  • When did the fraud occur? (You should include an estimated start date along with an end date, or an explanation that the fraud is still occurring).

  • How did the fraud occur? How much did it cost the company? How much could the company potentially pay in fines if found to be flouting regulations? How should the report be distributed? How many people were involved in the fraud? How can the fraud be mitigated in the future?

Presentation of findings

While your written report should have answered the important questions already, it is still important to have the 5Ws and 1H in mind before presenting your findings and report. The skill of storytelling helps because the recipient of the report, counsel or judge could potentially ask questions in different forms or phrases than the way you presented the findings in your written report. People are curious and will ask questions, so before they ask, you can anticipate the potential questions using the 5Ws and 1H to have the answers ready beforehand. As a popular Cameroonian proverb goes, “he who asks questions cannot avoid the answer.”

SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

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