Incident Analysis 101: Writing up your findings

Thai Wood Mar 3rd, 2022

You’ve done it! So far you’ve gathered data for your investigation, found some themes in it, and created a visualization. You may have done some interviews. Now it’s time to take off the detective hat and get into writing mode.

Writing up your findings helps to organize your progress thus far, consolidate what you’ve learned, and share those learnings with others. A written version of your findings allows others to comment, showing how the multiple perspectives you have gathered in your investigation fit together. Creating this consolidated view of the incident can broaden everyone’s understanding of the event. 

You’ve undoubtedly learned a lot while investigating this event. But not everyone, even those who participated, will have that same comprehensive knowledge. A write-up is a chance to share the knowledge and create something durable that can be referenced later. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time. You will be iterating on the report throughout your investigation, and even after the meeting.

There are many different ways to tackle a write up—we suggest two stages. The first, a calibration document, serves to help you organize your analysis and gather feedback from interviewees or incident participants. The second, optional step, is to formalize the findings into a report.  

A Calibration Document

The calibration document is shared in advance of a review meeting. This gives those you’ve interviewed a place to preview your findings, correct any misunderstandings, and comment on the themes you have chosen to highlight. Doing so prevents any surprises during the actual meeting, and helps to build and maintain trust that you’re representing their perspective fairly and accurately. Sharing this document with meeting participants in advance helps to  get all attendees on the same page. This makes the meeting  more productive by focusing the time on deeper discussions, as opposed to simply recounting a timeline. Time is knowledge, folks. 

At this point you’ve gathered different pieces of data you’re focusing on, for example, chat or service logs. However, that data by itself doesn’t tell a complete story about what happened. That’s your job as the investigator—to take all the data and help tell that story.

Creating a More Complete Picture

To start off with, you’ll look for themes in your gathered  data and add them to the calibration document. Themes are significant findings. They may be recurring patterns, insights into the software itself, or findings with a high learning value. At this stage you might have more themes than you have time for in a meeting. That’s a good problem! As an investigator, your role is to prioritize the key themes for discussion. One way to do this is by asking participants what the most important themes are to them.  You don’t have to worry about this being perfect—this isn’t a final report, it’s a chance to organize your findings thus far and to give the event participants a prompt for feedback to the investigator. The calibration doc is intended to be a living document, so don’t be afraid to edit it or expand it.


If you’re looking for some help getting started with your calibration doc, check out our template here.

The Final Report

Once you’ve written up your calibration document and gotten feedback on it (either from a meeting or soliciting input) you’re ready to write up a final report. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry, you don’t have to start from scratch, you can use your calibration document as a starting point! In fact, you may choose not to write up a full report at all.

Some organizations write up final reports to have a comprehensive record of the event for later reference or training purposes. Other organizations have found their reports never actually get read, and instead find the most value comes from the retrospective meetings and the follow up actions that get generated. These companies make edits to their calibration document, then catalog their meeting recordings in place of a final report. Which approach you choose will depend on the organizational culture, how much time is dedicated to writing up findings, and the ways in which those reports get used. 

If you choose to write the final report, we suggest the “how we got here report” that tells the story of how the event unfolded from the many different perspectives that you uncovered. “Howie” is built to be different from a traditional postmortem process. Instead of simply reviewing what happened, this report focuses on how the event came to be in the first place, making sure different perspectives are well represented. Feel free to tailor this to your organization’s needs for example, if a recording of the meeting is your thing, no problem, link it in the write up.

If you generate action items after publishing the report (stay tuned:  we’ll be tackling in a future post) it’s important to update the report with those items. This helps future readers understand the event as a whole, and what came of it. Also, we recommend sharing this report in a place that has some sort of analytics, at the very least how much it has been read. This can help you figure out what ways of sharing are especially effective and what readers are interested in learning (psst: report sharing is also coming soon in Incident Analysis 101). 

Ready to get started in writing up your findings? You can see a guide to the How We Got Here Investigation report here

So, you’ve gone over your data, extracted the themes and made a calibration document.  Depending on your goals, the intended future use, and your organization’s practices you might have tidied that up and made a How We Got Here final report.  Now you’re ready to share it far and wide! Congratulations, you are incorporating a positive culture of learning through your incidents. For more advice on how to spread the knowledge, stay tuned for future installments of Incident Analysis 101.

For more detailed information on these and other topics, you can always check out Jeli’s Howie: The Post Incident Guide