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How to use investigative statement analysis to examine statements

By examining statements for equivocations and extraneous information, investigators can gain valuable insights


Investigative Statement Analysis is a multi-faceted process that requires a thorough understanding of its linguistic aspects.


By Stan Burke, P1 Contributor

Investigator Callahan recently responded to a robbery. After arriving at the scene and conducting a preliminary investigation, he interviewed the victim. Specifically, he asked, “What happened?” The victim said:

  1. “I left my work at 11:00 pm. Before leaving I purchased some
  2. cigarettes and locked up the store. I set the alarm, turned out the
  3. lights and locked the doors. The back door was hard to close. I have
  4. talked with owner about having it fixed, but he doesn’t seem to care
  5. about the store like I do. After I was finished closing the store I
  6. started heading home. I walked down Fifth Street and took a right on
  7. C Street. I stopped at a bar, smoked a cigar, shot two
  8. games of pool and drank three beers. After that, I continued with my
  9. walk home. When I was close to my home I thought I
  10. heard a noise and when I looked around I was somehow pushed or
  11. grabbed from behind and pulled down to the ground. I believe I was
  12. knocked out and I guess he then ran away with my money. After
  13. he ran away, I got back up and checked my pockets. My wallet
  14. was gone and that really made me mad because it was given to me
  15. by my brother for my birthday. He bought the wallet when he was
  16. serving in the military overseas. It was made of leather and had my
  17. initials stamped on it. That’s about it.”

After reading the victim’s statement, Investigator Callahan questioned its quality. To confirm his suspicion he decided to analyze it using Investigative Statement Analysis.

What is Investigative Statement Analysis?

Investigative Statement Analysis is the examination of words in a statement to identify possible indicators of deception.[1] Generally, the words we use reflect a psychological state and mirror our thoughts and feelings.[2]

By examining words we can learn what people think and also guide their future thinking. As such, words can be considered both mirrors and tools.[3]

Investigative Statement Analysis is a formalized technique that provides articulation and structure to the initial reaction people may get after they listen to or read a statement – the reaction that causes them to believe or disbelieve what they had just heard or read.

How Does Investigative Statement Analysis Work?

When people intentionally provide deceptive information, they often exhibit a fight-or-flight reaction in response to the increased anxiety level associated with possibly having their deception exposed.[4] As a result, deceptive authors will often attempt to hide behind their own words, phrases, or linguistic construction.[5]

Through the application of a simple multi-step process – that includes the examination of details, equivocations, negations, extraneous information, times, events, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns – Investigative Statement Analysis allows investigators to determine a statement’s quality by examining the linguistic forms found within it.

This article reviews two crucial steps of the Investigative Statement Analysis process: the examination of equivocations and extraneous information.


Sometimes referred to as “hedges” or “qualifiers,” equivocations are words or phrases someone may use to avoid a definitive answer.[6] When someone uses equivocations, they actually undermine their own claim, indicating a possible struggle with committing to what has been said.[7] When investigators locate equivocations in a statement, they should view them carefully to determine if the information provided actually occurred as reported.[8]

Examples of equivocations:

  • I think
  • I believe
  • Kind of
  • I guess
  • Sort of
  • From what I recall
  • Maybe
  • Like
  • Perhaps
  • May have
  • Somewhat
  • Somewhere
  • Something
  • About
  • Possibly
  • Probably
  • Around
  • A little
  • To the best of my knowledge

Analysis of Equivocations in the Victim’s Statement

Going back to the victim’s statement, in lines 9–12, the victim used the equivocations: thought, somehow, believe and guess to describe the robber’s attack. By using these linguistic forms, he was able to avoid specificity about what exactly happened during the robbery and in process avoid the risk of commitment.

Looking at the last line of the victim’s statement, the victim used the equivocation “about” to summarize the robbery; allowing him to possibly escape commitment in reference to everything he claimed happened. Moreover, by using this equivocation the author also indicates he may not have provided all the information he had regarding the robbery.

The equivocations used in this statement should be of particular interest to Investigator Callahan because they appear during a crucial part of the statement, when specificity would normally be expected. Interestingly, the victim does provide specificity in his statement; however, it is primarily used to provide details of his store, his walk home, his time at the bar and his wallet – parts of the statement that are extraneous to the robbery.

Extraneous Information

An evasive response has limited relevance to the question asked.[9] Such a response can also be considered extraneous and is a possible indicator of deception.[10]

For instance, when an investigator asks an attack victim if they were hurt, they would expect the victim to provide a response similar to, “Yes, I scraped my arm” or “No, I am fine.” In most cases these answers are acceptable because they are considered relevant to the inquiry – they are short and simple answers to the question posed. However, if the victim had provided the response, “I was surprised at how fast you guys got here. I’m good friends with a police officer and I know how busy you can get, so I didn’t expect you guys to get here as soon as you did.” In this case the victim’s response lacks relevancy and would be considered extraneous.

Why do people provide extraneous information?

One answer is the person being questioned may not be comfortable providing a relevant answer, and knowing the investigator expects a response, will offer information they feel comfortable communicating, even if it is extraneous. By using this strategy they may be hoping to create the appearance of cooperation.

In other instances, a person may use extraneous information to create a particular self-image.

Analysis of Extraneous Information in the Victim’s Statement

A review of the victim’s statement reveals that in lines 1-5, he mentions everything he did to secure the store prior to leaving. This information is considered extraneous and could be an attempt by the author to create the appearance of a security conscious employee – a person who is responsible and follows rules and regulations.

In lines 6–8, the author provides specifics about the route he walked on his way home, the stop he made at the bar, and what he drank there. All of these details are extraneous to the robbery; however, by providing this information, he could be creating the impression of cooperation.

In lines 14–17, the author goes into detail when describing the anger he felt after his wallet was stolen and why it was so important to him. Again, this information is irrelevant to the robbery, but may have been included in the statement to create the perception of cooperation with the investigation.

With the abundance of extraneous information in the victim’s statement, Investigator Callahan should now consider the possibility the victim provided this information to create a self-serving statement.

What do the results show?

As a result of examining the victim’s statement, it becomes apparent the information he provided to Investigator Callahan may not have been accurate. Specifically:

  • He provided five equivocations when describing the robbery; indicating his possible lack of commitment to what actually happened.
  • More than half of the statement contained extraneous information that had no relevance to the robbery, but may have created the perception of a good person who was fully cooperating with the robbery investigation.

Did the robbery occur as reported?

In this case, Investigative Statement Analysis provided articulation and structure to the instinctive concerns Investigator Callahan had about the victim’s statement. Equipped with his analysis, Investigator Callahan should now be in a firm position to re-interview the victim and determine exactly what happened.


Investigative Statement Analysis is a multi-faceted process that requires a thorough understanding of its linguistic aspects. However, by simply examining statements for equivocations and extraneous information, investigators can greatly enhance their ability to gain valuable insight and awareness into statements of witnesses, victims and suspects.


1. Adams S. “Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects’ Words Really Reveal?” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1996, 12-20.

2. Pennybaker J. The Secret Life of Pronouns (New York NY: Bloomsbury Press, 2011), 14.

3. Ibid., 15.

4. Rudacille W. Identifying Lies in Disguise (Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt, 1994), 27-33.

5. Ibid.

6. Adams S, Jarvis J. “Indicators of veracity and deception: an analysis of written statements made to police,” International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 2006, vol. 13, No. 1, p. 4.

7. Rabon D. Investigative Discourse Analysis, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1994, 20.

8. Adams S. “Statement Analysis.”

9. Rudacille W. Identifying Lies in Disguise, 63.

10. Ibid., 66.

About the author
Stan Burke was an FBI agent for 23 years, serving as a field agent in the FBI’s Phoenix, Dallas and Albuquerque Divisions, and as a supervisor and chief at FBI Headquarters and the FBI Academy. He currently works as a consultant to the FBI’s Domestic Human Intelligence Training Center. While assigned to the FBI Academy, he taught investigative statement analysis and interviewing and interrogation, for which he was certified as a subject matter expert.

In 2008, he was appointed unit chief of the FBI’s Law Enforcement Communication Resources Unit. Under his management the LECRU joined forces with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit and founded the FBI’s Joint Communication Exploitation Research Team. Through his efforts, the JCERT analyzed statements submitted by law enforcement agencies worldwide and became an invaluable investigative resource. In 2010 he was awarded the prestigious FBI Director’s Award for these efforts.

Stan retired from the FBI in 2011 and is currently the president of Precision Intelligence Consulting, which provides investigative statement analysis services and instruction.