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Documentation and Report Writing

The Setting: The Residence Life Office

The Players: Your Resident Director You, the RA

The Scene: You were up until 3 a.m. with J.A., a student in your section. You and your duty partner found J.A. rollerblading down the hall at 2:00 in the morning, singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the top of his lungs. He was carrying a magic marker and making "Zorro" marks on all the doors as he passed. J.A. is your first documentation.

RD: So, I read in the log book that you had to confront J.A. for some inappropriate behavior last night. When can I expect to see the Incident Report?

RA: Well, that's why I'm here. I haven't ever written an incident report before, except for in training, and this seemed kind of serious, so I wanted to get it right.

RD: That's good. Let's get a form and we'll go through it together. Do you remember what information the form generally asks for?

RA: Yes. It should have the date and time of the incident, where it happened, and who was there.

RD: That's right. It's important to remember that since this happened after midnight, you put the correct day and date on the form. Since you have Tuesday night duty, you have to remember that it's Wednesday's day and date you'll write on the form. What else is necessary?

RA: There are spaces for information about the person responsible - his name, room number, social security number, and some other things. I don't know my residents' social security numbers. Where do I get that information?

RD: There is a list that's kept in the office. You may use that to get all the information on the resident. Some schools may allow you access to the computer to get this, but we don't. What's next?

RA: I have to describe the incident.

RD: Why don't you tell me what you'd write, then I'll tell you what might need to be fixed?

RA: OK. Sue and I were doing rounds. We saw J.A. skating around, screaming, and doing something with a marker on the doors he passed. We told him to stop, and that we'd have to write him up.

RD: Well, you have the basics. Listen to how I'd describe the same incident. "Sue Lancer, RA, and I were doing a late round at approximately 2:45 a.m. We heard loud singing - "Bohemian Rhapsody" - coming from the 2nd South section. We approached the area, and saw J.A. on rollerblades. He was singing at the top of his lungs, and had a purple magic marker in his hands. He appeared to be skating past doors, writing the 'Z' from 'Zorro' on the doors as he passed. I asked J.A. to stop, which he did, and asked him what he was doing. He told me he was just having some fun. I told him that it was almost three in the morning, and he was not only violating quiet hours, but he was vandalizing the halls, and was breaking the 'no sports in the hallway' rules. J.A. was a little argumentative when I asked him to return to his room. He said, 'You're a jerk!' but he left then and went quietly to his room. Sue and I then went to see which rooms had been marked by J.A, and they were 201, 202, 204, 205, 206 and 207. We did another pass of the halls in 20 minutes, and there was no sign of J.A. or anyone else."

RA: Wow! You really want all those details?

RD: Yes. It's important - just like a news story - to have the Who, What, When, Where, How, and, if you know it, the Why of all your documentations. If J.A. was drunk, for instance, you would need to put something in that states what made you think he was drunk, like "J.A. was unstable on his feet. He was slurring his words, and smelled of alcohol when he talked." Incident reports are very important, and are sometimes seen by many eyes other than ours, particularly if the case is appealed. The more complete the report can be, the better position we are in to hold our students accountable. It's also important to simply report what happened, and to not editorialize.

RA: What do you mean by that?

RD: It's tempting, especially as the year goes on, to write things about the person. For instance, if you've confronted J.A. ten times for noise violations, it's tempting for you to write something like, "J.A. must be stupid. He's been confronted a million times, and he just doesn't get it. Why is this kid still here?" If you're feeling frustrated, please don't write that in your incident report. Talk to me in our one-on-one, or write it in your weekly report. Don't use the incident report to do it. It makes it look like you're on a vendetta against that student.

So, do you think you're able to write a good report now?

RA: Yes, I do. I guess documentation is really important to what we do.

RD: It is. It's not just incident reports, either. Your weekly reports, the log book, Room Inventories, and maintenance requests - all are forms of documentation that are important to the functioning of our department. Your ability to document thoroughly and impartially is a real key to your success in the position. Now, let's get that incident report finished.