Like most investigative supervisors, I have read a lot of investigative reports. Sadly, I have seen many common words misused again and again in those reports. Our language is partly to blame. English is filled with exceptions, inexplicable rules, homonyms, synonyms, and unnecessarily unusual spellings. But misused words, diminish the author’s credibility and can confuse the reader. They can also displease a client. Consider the words, ironic and coincidental. Situational irony produces the opposite of what was expected. In O. Henry’s, The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each sold something precious to purchase a well-intentioned gift for the other. But as fate would have it, the purchased gifts were to enhance what the other had sold. The irony is sad and unmistakable.

However, an investigator reporting, “the gunman’s entrance into the convenience store while a uniformed officer was inside was ironic” is not only rendering an opinion (a definite no-no in any investigative report) by opining the event was ironic, but was himself ironic, for he meant the event was coincidental. If unexpected house guests arrive the day you plan to leave home for an unplanned get-away, that’s coincidental. If your get-away destination was their beach house, that’s ironic.

Here are the remaining 18 most frequently misused words I’ve found in investigative reports:

Accept v. Except

Accept is to receive; except is to exclude.

Affect v. Effect

Affect is to influence; effect is to accomplish.

Allusion v. Illusion

Allusion is an indirect reference; an illusion is a belief or opinion not in accordance with the facts.

Comprise v. Compose

Comprise is to include; compose is to create or make up.

Elicit v. Illicit

Elicit is to evoke; illicit is unlawful.

Imply v. Infer

To imply is to suggest; to infer is to conclude. Thus, a writer implies, and a reader infers.

Loose v. Lose

Loose is not tight, or roomy; lose is to misplace, fail or be defeated.

Principal v. Principle

A principal can be your pal; a principle is a fundamental truth or law.

Their v. There v. They’re

Their house is over there, and it appears they’re still living in it.

Two v. Too v. To

The two of them, appeared to be happy too often.

Bonus: It’s a contraction for it is. Its is used as a possessive. So, depending upon your intention, the sentences “It’s my luck, that its your lucky day” and “Its my luck, that it’s your lucky day!” the reader could infer either were correct.