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Getting Descriptions of People: Ten Tips 

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  1. First calm the person if he or she is upset or tense. People’s memories generally improve when they are relaxed

  2. Ask the person you are interviewing to give a general description. They are will probably give you some general information and then get stuck. You should then prompt their memory by asking specific questions.

  3. Ask about the subject’s sex, race, age, height, weight, if they have not already given you accurate information about these.

  4. If the person struggles to give an accurate answer about the subject’s height, ask them how high the subject was in relation to other work colleagues. For example: “Was he shorter or taller than Bob?” and “How much shorter or taller than Mary do you think he was?” You can do the same thing with the person’s weight.

  5. If the subject was standing in a particular place you can ask how tall he or she was in relation to the object. For example “Where on the bookcase did his or her head reach?” When you get information about heights in this way remember to take account of the angle from which the person was watching, which may have distorted the perception of height.

  6. It helps a person remember a face more accurately if you ask about the components of the face. So ask about the eyes, any glasses, what complexion, anything about the mouth or nose, any piercings, possible makeup, beard, moustache, sideburns, etc.

  7. Don’t just ask about the colour of the hair. Also ask how long it was, whether it appeared to be dyed, whether it was all one colour, what style it was, whether it appeared to be a wig, etc.

  8. Ask what clothing the subject was wearing, then go through it item by item.

  9. Ask if the subject had any distinguishing physical features, including did he or she limp or have a unique gait.

  10. Ask what the subject was carrying, if anything. If the subject had a weapon ask for details, for example was the handle a different material or colour, was it a revolver or a pistol, and explain how they look differently, etc. If the person has difficulty remembering the size of the weapon ask him or her to relate it to the something else.

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For many more tips, pointers and practical advice see our Investigation Manual.