Part 4: Rhetorical Modes

15 Investigative Reports


An investigative report argument is a structure of argument that focuses on defining some kind of problem, outlining the details of the problem, and providing evidence that the problem is an important one. In this type of argument, you must propose a problem exists. First, you must establish a clear problem and then examine all the factors that are involved in that problem. For example, you might argue for a problem with retention rates at your college.

This type of essay works well if you see a problem you want to fix or see the change you want to make. For example,  if you wanted to research solar panels, you would need to know WHY solar panels are of interest.  You see, the problem here is not solar power.  It is your job to figure out what the problem really is.  Perhaps

library shelves full of colorful books
“Braziers Park House – library (1)” by karenblakeman is marked with CC0 1.0

it is the “energy crisis” of the southwestern United States. So, you may want to research solar panels, but they won’t be your starting point.  The problem of the energy crisis will be the starting point.

An investigative report, in the technical sense, is a document that tries to persuade the reader that a problem exists, is important to pay attention to, and has an impact on the world around. This is the first half of your research.  Without a clear understanding of what the problem is, your final essay “The Proposal Essay” will not work.  This is the problem that you will eventually propose a solution to.

Your essay must persuade the reader that your problem is the one most worth solving.

All investigative reports must be convincing, logical, and credible, and to do this, they must consider audience, purpose, and tone.

The problem/solution pattern is commonly used in identifying something that’s wrong and in contemplating what might be done to remedy the situation. For example, the problem of water pollution could be described, followed by a clear understanding of what is causing water pollution and what the outstanding effects of water pollution are.  There are probably more ways to organize a problem approach, but here are three possibilities:

  • Describe the problem in the form of a definition essay
  • Discuss the causes first and then describe the effects
  • Define a problem, followed by cause and effect research

Time to Write

Purpose:  This assignment will demonstrate the understanding of how to do a thorough investigation of a topic. Students will research a topic (a problem) and identify the full context of that issue.

Task: This assignment frames the topic, purpose, audience, and context for the approved research topic.

Write an Investigative Report.  This report should clearly identify a problem that interests you.  This problem should be something that you can research.  Your research should include what the problem is and all of the causes or effects of the problem.  This is an INFORMATIVE (Expository) essay, so you aren’t making an argument, you are just presenting facts.  State the problem, define the problem, show who, what, where is affected by the problem, examine why the problem exists.  Conclude with a statement of what the readers should understand after reading your essay. Your research should support the who, what, where, and why of the problem, as well as showing that the issue is a problem.

Always make sure your topic has been approved by your instructor before you go through the effort to try and write the paper.

Key Features of a Report:

  • Defines an issue, problem, or phenomenon in precise terms
  • Provides the who, what, where, and why of the topic
  • Makes clear why the topic under consideration needs to be investigated
  • Provides trustworthy facts and details that help readers understand the effect of this topic and determine who has a stake in the situation
  • Is factual and objective
  • Uses direct quotations to convey the perspectives of various groups with a stake in the issue
  • Relies on the appropriate organization and design
  • Identifies the conclusion the readers should reach
  • At this time you should have 5 – 7 sources.


Your investigative report will have the following sections.  Please note:  these are sections, not paragraphs.  You will have a new paragraph for every new idea.

Introductory Paragraph with your research question and thesis Write this last.
Describe why the problem is a problem. You’ll be defining your terms here.
For whom is the problem a problem? Be specific.  Don’t use “everyone” as being affected by the research question.
How will these people suffer if the problem is not solved? Use your sources.  Use pathos.  Make the reader care.
Who has the power to solve the problem? You’re thinking ahead to your larger research paper and beginning to think of solutions.
Why hasn’t the problem been solved up to this point? What are the barriers faced by this population in this situation?
Concluding paragraph; restate the thesis. Write this once you’ve completed your introduction.

Key Grading Considerations

  • Problem
    1. Presents the problem with all the needed information to fully understand the problem.
    2. Subject knowledge is evident.
    3. All information is clear, appropriate, and correct.
    4. Demonstrated social significance
    5. Included related information
  • Observation Questions
    1. Who
    2. What
    3. When
    4. Where
    5. Why
  • Uses Academic Tone
  • Uses Synthesis
    • Multiple sources
        1. Connections between sources are also demonstrated
        2. Does not quote drop
        3. Quotes are analyzed
        4. Includes tag words and lead-ins.
  • Language Use, Mechanics & Organization
  • Appropriate Format



Media Attributions

  • Braziers Park House – library (1)


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