Looks Matter: Presentation in Forensic Reports

Apr 04, 2023


Does the way a forensic report looks matter?

Yes, the forensic report is a narrative just like any other written product, and research has repeatedly and consistently shown that people are more likely to understand and remember information that is presented clearly, succinctly, and visually.


Looks matter. They really do. 

Did you know that pseudo-scientific studies have shown that people are rated as most attractive in (clean) plain white t-shirts? You can't use that study in Court, but you can and should take it to heart. Simple, clean, and pretty are almost always going to win the fight. 


Why do you think that high-paid consultants bring in slides to wow juries when millions are on the line? It's because a picture says a thousand words. And none of those words are as confusing as the ones we say when we start talking like a forensic psychologist. 


Words matter too, but that's for another post. For now, let's stick with looks. 


How a report looks and feels is about whether your reader can breathe while reading it. Here are a couple of suggestions that help your readers breathe:


1. White space.

Hit enter a few more times between sections. Consider using tables to format your wording into columns that help structure and organize your sections and make it clear to their eyes where to go for navigation, versus content. Make it as easy as possible for the reader to jump from section to section searching for the information they're interested in. Keep paragraphs short to help with this, too. (kinda like this very post...)


2. Contrast. 

Color rules the day. If you work for yourself, play with an ink color besides black. Then, even if it shows up on the other end in monochrome, it will be gray. Gray still works. There is no better way to help section headings stand out than to make them different from the narrative text. Other things that can bring contrast are size, and font. If you make your headings larger and in an alternative font, that would also work. 


3. Use graphics. 

I know. Be brave. 

Study after study after study after study shows that images combined with words improve reader clarity, satisfaction, speed, recall, and stamina. Used judiciously, leaning on a graphic to illuminate important test data or a critical data point informing your opinion will not only infinitely boost your cool factor, but it will help your reader, too. Learn more about adding graphics into your reports here.


Want more tips? Follow us. Want an overhaul in your report writing? Check out our full course (2 CEs): Consumer Driven Forensic Report Writing.


Here at Streamline, we're committed to using our powers of psychology for good. Starting from the science and empirical literature but arriving at the core of what matters. Focusing on what readers and consumers truly want. Keeping sight of what clinicians need. In our blog, videos, and courses, we’re here to serve clinical and forensic assessment psychologists, especially those early-to-mid-career with an eye toward improvement, innovation, and inspiration.

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