DFIR Training Blog



No job is finished until the paperwork is done.

In this post..

How to save your job. How to save your reputation. A chance to win a 3-year license of Forensic Notes.

Notetaking is boring.

Many jobs require writing in some form or another. Writing can range from documenting inventory of empty boxes to full-blown and extremely detailed legal briefs of a complex criminal investigation.  Your basic report writing and notetaking falls somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. Generally when we write, we suck at it. <I might be speaking only for myself…>. We suck at it because we don't like doing it as it is boring.

“If you don’t document it, it never happened.”

One thing about history is that history has been documented.  There is probably a lot of world history that no one will ever know because it wasn’t documented. All we know is that which has been documented in stone, parchment, or paper.  All else is as if it never happened.

The reason for accurate report writing and notetaking is because you will forget if you don’t document. And if you forget the details, the details will never be known, as if it never happened.

Any system and no system

Yesterday (aka: the stone age)

Notes were are memorialized in notepads and subsequently transferred into reports since laptops don’t fit in your back pocket.  No spell checker. No grammar checker.  All notes from every interview and dispatched call written in the same notebook. A notetaking notepad is the original copy, and usually, the only copy of notes.

Today (aka: the tech age)

A mobile device that fits in your pocket can embed timestamped photos, geolocation, weather, audio, video, dictation, and handwritten notes that are also encrypted, logged, verified, timestamped, and backed up.

We need tools to improve upon notepads and pens

Writing evidentiary notes on anything can be reasonably acceptable, including writing on a piece of scrap paper. Each situation will determine if a chosen method is reasonable. For example, when in the field or even not working, you might only have a pencil and scratch paper to make an important note of something that may be evidence. Imagine if you witnessed a bank robbery and you see the license plate of the getaway car as it speeds away. You’d write the license plate on the closest piece of paper or even on your hand, otherwise, you will forget the plate number!

Conversely, going into the field to specifically document a scene allows for more opportunities in how to document because you have time and preparation.  Loose pieces of scratch paper will be difficult to claim as being reasonable in a situation like this.

Keeping up with documentation methods for your forensic work is as important as keeping up with your skills to do forensic work

The difference is that we are only as good in what we do if we keep up with advancements in technology, procedures, and methods. This applies to any field; additionally, we work in the tech field, have access to the most advanced software and hardware systems in existence today, and are expected to use the most current tools and procedures. Notetaking falls squarely in the middle of this.

What is Forensic Notes?

This is a really good video showing Forensic Notes, at least some seriously cool features. As you watch it, consider how your approach on your next data collection can be completely different, as in completely incredible in documenting the scene. Regardless if it is at a search warrant, a civil matter with custodian workstation imaging, or just plain file copying of data onsite, using Forensic Notes on your mobile device.

The other thing to consider is that if the opposing expert documents in this manner, and you could have also been documenting in this manner, your written notes most likely will not look near as professional. Forensic Notes is in the Apple App store…way too easy to get, and way to difficult to say why you didn’t use it..

Why do I like Forensic Notes?

#1 It automates things that I rather not do or may forget to do

Rather than potentially write the wrong date or time, I rather let tech do it right the first time and every time. That includes geolocation. And current weather. And embedding forensically sound crime scene photos.

#2 It pressures me to get notes done ASAP

When your notes are timestamped, you want to make sure you write them in a timely fashion. You should write them in a timely fashion anyway, but the pressure of a clock ticking away is helpful to get it done.

#3 It reduces questions that I may get asked under cross examination

Questions like, ‘where were you when you wrote these notes, what time did you write these notes, and how do we know you did not alter your notes’ are now less likely to be asked and if asked, easily proven.

Rather than create the metadata yourself and risk errors, use an application that does it for your accurately, correctly, and for every item entered. By metadata, I mean the information about the notes that you are taking, like the date and time of the note that you normally write on the notepad.

How to use Forensic Notes?

In the easiest of instructions, enter the data and Forensic Notes does the rest. There isn’t a big learning curve at all. The most important aspect of using Forensic Notes is being aware of what it does, otherwise, you may not fully utilize it.  The Getting Started Guide can show the how to use Forensic Notes, but mostly, you just need to know what kind of note that you need to create and everything else is intuitive.


Forensic Notes is giving away THREE 1-user professional licenses for THREE YEARS . That means you have 3 chances to win a 3-year license. This is a substantial giveaway.  If you don’t win, try the 7-day free trial. It may change the way you think about notetaking. Rather, it probably will.

Giveaway date : Oct 28, 2019

Rules : (1) Answer the winning email on Oct 28, 2019 if you win, (2) agree to maybe receive an email from Forensic Notes if you do not win. I say “ maybe” because I offer that to any company who asks me to help with a giveaway of good tools, in that maybe there is something you want to know about the tool that you can ask when you maybe get an email.

Register (free) here:  

**Giveaway completed. Three winners picked!**

Quick decision-making information

Forensic Notes is a subscription-based application, with full tech support, developed by cops. That means a lot to me because I have no doubt that my notetaking, report writing, and court testifying experience is probably identical to the developers at Forensic Notes.

Watch the video:

To better help you decide about Forensic Notes, be sure to watch the video shown above. That should be enough to make your ‘yes’ decision.

Something really neat and useful:

If the video wasn’t enough, take a look at Forensic Witness . Forensic Witness allows you get data from a witness mobile device, in a forensically sound manner, without having to seize it, image it, connect it with a cable, or fight to access the data. It is a quick 3-step process.

1-A link is sent. 

2-The link is clicked.

3-You get forensically sound (as in completely documented) evidence from the witness device.

How cool is that? How about an entire patrol division doing that? Detective cases would be 75% easier if the evidence is collected by patrol officers at the time of the report before it is forgotten or lost. Same with custodians in a civil matter if they have photos or documents or anything of relevance on their personal devices.

Need more?

Comparisons matter and Forensic Notes vs the common notetaking methods are no different. This chart, self-explanatory, gives the win to Forensic Notes. Consider that Forensic Notes has been developed especially for documenting evidence collection (notes, photos, videos, documents, audio, etc…) that will withstand the toughest court.

Still think consumer word processing programs work good enough?

Rob Merriott wrote a strong piece on consumer word processing programs used in legal case documentation.  I was humbly quoted in the article, and I stand by it all. Take a read here: https://www.forensicnotes.com/ms-word-and-onenote-should-never-be-used-for-contemporaneous-notes/ . Full disclosure…I’ve known Rob for a few years, and have bantered a bit over Forensic Notes and word processors and notepads. For every argument that I had, Rob had two counterpoints that were better than my argument. It took some time, but Rob made me a believer; not just because Forensic Notes is a good tool, but because he truly believes in this tool should be used by everyone in the legal arena for the sake of creating notes that can’t be beaten in court. As any witness knows, having your notes thrown out of court as inadmissible for any reason is more than embarrassing, it is harmful to the case (and the facts of the case!).

Rob’s law enforcement experience also swayed me because I am certain that my experience in notetaking, report writing, and testifying is no different than his. I trust that he and his team are creating the best app for himself as well as everyone else.

But what does a report look like?

The thing about the reporting is the metadata. Metadata of timestamps and verification of the report being original and unaltered.  At first, I thought, ‘So what. You can PDF a report. Big deal.’  But then, I asked, does <name your favorite word processor> do these other things to create forensically superior notes?

Here’s an example: https://www.forensicnotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/forensic_notebook_exhibit-1-iphone-6-white.pdf

Getting the skinny

Enter for a chance to win a license . If you win, you’ll be a believer after your first case in Forensic Notes.

Give the trial a chance. Use it with the next case you have. That should be enough to convince you.

Consider that your next opposing expert may be a better notetaker than you . I rather be the witness with the best notes, the most professional notes, and the notes that irrefutably meet evidentiary standards.

Brett's tips and opinions on notetaking and report writing

No one enjoys spending hours taking notes or writing reports.

--Notetaking and report writing is probably the most important part of your job, because if you don't write it down, it will be as if you did no work.

--I promise that a day will come when you will appreciate having developed good notetaking skills. Otherwise, you will regret it.

Write your memories down ASAP

--Everything is clear in your head at first, but your mind will trick you into believing that you won't forget the details. You will forget. Write it down.

--You will forget if you don't write it down (did I say that already?).

Use a system.

--Try to use the same notetaking system, whether it is a technical system or notepad, all the time.

--If you can't use your system for some reason, use something, anything to document as soon as possible (ie, before you forget).

Write as if your notes will be read on the evening news.

--I've had this happen to me. It can happen to you.

If your boss requires you to write good notes, that means you only have to do it if you want to keep your job.

If someone says, "You might want to write this down", that means that your world should stop spinning and you better write it down before doing anything else.

If Stephan King put the same amount of writing in his books that many people put in their reports and notes, his books would suck. Put the work in, or the little work that you do put in will be wasted.

Everyone can tell if you took good notes or you did the minimum. Everyone can tell. Lazy notes fool no one.

Written by :Brett Shavers

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