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How to take good forensic notes

Examples of good notes
Making notes

As a forensic scientist, you must make clear, accurate and detailed notes as you may need to refer to them to construct a witness statement or when giving evidence in court. The original notes must be used in court and the defence can request access to your notebook before and during the trial. These notes must be contemporaneous; made at the time of the event or as soon as it is possible to do so after. If there is a significant delay that cannot be accounted for, then the notes cannot be used.

Information that should be included:

  • Day, Date, Time and Place (DDTP)
  • the personal protective equipment (PPE) that you are wearing and any other contamination prevention methods in use
  • your name and the people that you are working with
  • any calculations made must be complete and in full showing all steps
  • reagent and equipment serial, LOT or batch numbers
  • the controls used i.e. positive and negative controls for presumptive testing
  • include any problems, errors and troubleshooting carried out.

NOTE: if you are using a standard operating procedure (SOP), then you do not need to document all the steps undertaken within that document, you just need to add any areas that deviate, ie if it states to incubate a sample at 30°C for five minutes and the temperature is instead 32°C, then this needs to be stated.

You may also want to consider constructing diagrams as they are useful for refreshing your memory, ie layout of a room or of a piece of clothing that you are examining, highlighting the useful information.

The No ELBOWS rule was initially designed for police officers writing in their pocket notebook, but they are good rules to adhere to:


  • erasures – do not use correction fluid or other erasing products or strikethrough deletions with heavy pen
  • leaves (pages) torn out
  • blank spaces between words or lines left between entries
  • overwriting
  • writing between lines
  • statements must be written in ‘direct speech’.

When making contemporaneous notes, only pen should be used and preferably black ink as this is less likely to fade over time and is legible when photocopied. Pen is used to ensure that no erasures can be made; even sketches and diagrams should be drawn in pen. Mistakes should be ruled through with a single line, then initialed and dated. If there are any blank space or at the end of an entry, this space must be ruled through, signed and dated.

Your Case Notes

Murder on the Thames notes

Page No. 56. Title: Murder on the Thames. Book No 1. of 1. Date 02/05/2018.

From Page No. 1

On Wednesday 2nd May 2018 at 14:00 hours, I attend the HMB 02/05/18 scene at Nelson Dock, Rotherhithe. GMB I attended the scene with L. Thompson and C. Pike. We wore full PPE, scene suit, overshoes, face mask and two (2) pair of gloves.

At 14:25hrs we were instructed by the CSM P. Dolly to take photographs of the footwear marks. In total eight (8) marks were identified and fourteen (14) photographs taken. The series of photographs were given the identifiers LT1-14. Completed at 16:45 hours – GMB.

I identified a blood spot on a handrail of the stairs at 17:20 hours. The spot was photographed by C. Pike and given the identifier CP1. Using the SOP presumptive testing and swabbing at the scene, I carried out the Hemastix test for blood. Batch LOT Number for the Hemastix test for blood. Batch LOT Number for the Hemastix was HS43969. Positive control was carried out using horse blood LOT 36214 and positive result obtained in 3 (three) seconds. Negative control did not give a result. Using a cloth swab (batch number CS439) I swabbed the area of suspected blood. The swab head was then pressed against a Hemastix pad. Positive result observed in two (2) seconds – GMB.

The swab was labelled and given the identifier GMB/1. It was then securely packaged in to TEB034698 and handed to the CSM P. Dolly. Examination finished at 19:10hours – GMB.

G.Mason-Buck 02/05/18. To Page No. 1. Recorded by G. Mason-Buck. Date 02/05/18. Checked for completeness P. Dolly. Date 02/05/18.

Discussion prompt

From the information you’ve obtained so far, what should you document in your notes?

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