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Note-taking during an interview

Provided by John E. Reid & Associates

When participants see video-taped interviews at our seminars, it is obvious that our interviewers take a written note following each response offered by a subject. The Reid Technique advocates active note taking during a structured interview for three reasons.

First, taking a written note following each response slows down the pace of questioning. It is much easier to lie to a series of questions asked in quick succession than the same questions asked five or seven seconds apart. The reason for this is that when questions are asked rapidly, the deceptive subject does not have time to internally respond to his lie; that is, once a lie is told, rather than having time to experience a fear that the lie may be detected, the suspect's attention is immediately directed to the investigator's next question. When questions are not separated by a period of silence, the accompanying behavior symptoms of deception are greatly reduced.

Innocent subjects are comfortable with the silence note taking creates. They realize that the investigator is writing out their answer and they simply wait for the next question to be asked. Deceptive subjects, on the other hand, are uncomfortable with this period of silence. Because their original response to the question was less than truthful, they may modify or qualify it during the time in which the investigator takes a written note. This behavior, in and of itself, can be a good indication of deception.

Second, taking written notes helps the investigator focus on key aspects of the subject's behavior during a response. In this regard, the notes following a response should not be a verbatim record of the subject's answer. Rather, the essence of the response should be documented, along with any significant behavior symptoms. This is illustrated below, where the entire question and answer is first reproduced, followed by the investigator's written notes:

I: "How do you feel about being interviewed concerning this allegation against you?"

S: "Well, it makes me scared, you know. I don't understand why everyone, well not everyone, but the people at the agency, why they think that I would do this to my step daughter." (Shift in the chair)

Attitude: It makes me scared. I don't understand why people at the agency would think I'd do this to my step daughter. SIC

Notice that the investigator's question is underlined. It makes little sense to only document the subject's responses during an interview -- the investigator's questions must also be documented. In this example, a standard abbreviation for the question is used. The SIC following the essence of the subject's response indicates a shift in the chair. At the conclusion of this article are other suggested abbreviations to document nonverbal behaviors.

Finally, by taking written notes during an interview, an investigator can review an interview days or weeks after it was conducted and reconstruct the subject's significant verbal and nonverbal responses during the interview. This is especially beneficial when a number of possible suspects have been interviewed on the same case in that the investigator can make intra-suspect comparisons to help identify who can, or can not, be eliminated as a suspect.

As a caveat to this entire discussion it is important to emphasize that if written notes are taken during an interview, they need to be taken following every response. Conversely, if sporadic notes are taken following only selected responses, this will have the effect of causing the subject to be guarded and hesitant in offering further information. Sporadic note taking alerts the subject as to the apparent importance of a particular response and results in less meaningful information.

Possible Note Taking Abbreviations for Nonverbal Behavior

=> = Break of gaze to the right

CT = Clear throat

DB = Deep breath or sigh

... = Delayed response

DII = Direct eye to eye contact

e = Early response

Grm = Grooming behavior

Ill = Illustrators

! = Loud or emphasized

Lgh = Laugh (erasure)

SIC = Shift in chair

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