Basics for a Paranormal Investigation

Written by Debra Pickman


Do you want to begin a hobby as a paranormal investigator? Are you new to investigations? Wondering what the protocol is for a good investigation? What to become a paranormal investigator but don’t know how or where to start? Well, I can help you get started with the basics, and then you could Google the topic and search through various we blinks later to give you alternative viewpoints and addition considerations.

Selecting a good location is of course, first and foremost and likely the easiest part. You basically have two choices for your first location; a known haunt that is either currently occupied or unoccupied. Whichever location you choose be sure you have, or gain, permission to be on the premises.

Prepare the occupants at a location for what to expect

If the location is occupied you should discuss with the occupants your experience, your approach and what you feel your investigation will do for them so they know what to expect. Remember they are likely as nervous as you. Keep in mind, however, that your first investigation should not be under the guise of a professional investigation. You should not give suggestions or concrete answers without experience to base you conclusions on. Doing so could be dangerous to the occupants.

Be Respectful and Gracious

In fact, if your first case is an occupied location known to be haunted, be up front and let them know that you are new in the field and would like to gain experience through their location. Always be sure to present yourself and your group with professionalism in mind (be sure to keep appointments and call backs and follow-ups, write down and remember contact names and numbers, be respectful of all property, graciousness etc…)

This initial communication is also a perfect time for a basic interview. Talking to the occupants/owners will determine what the concerning experiences have been and listening to them tell their story also helps the experienced interviewer weed out those stories and individuals who seem less than credible.

Remember, although there are incredible true accounts out there, there are also people who take pleasure in misleading a group into thinking their location is haunted; trying to pull the proverbial wool over your eyes.

The initial interview will do several other things

It allows you to determine where your investigative efforts should focused, what activity you should be aware of and how much or what equipment you might need. For instance if the claim does not include moving items, you may decide there is no need for a video camera. Most groups, however, bring one to document their own work, and validate the whereabouts of individuals and sounds at any given time during the investigation and can be quiet valuable while analyzing the evidence later.

If the location is not occupied, such as old buildings, cemeteries and the like, be sure you have checked out the site during daylight hours before going at night.  This way you get an idea of the layout, safety issues that will present themselves, and even get an idea on where you want to concentrate you efforts and put your equipment. Again, a call to the owner should provide you with additional information to help decide where to focus your efforts.

Basic investigating techniques to prove or disprove a haunting are fairly simple and equipment needs are minimal.

You can start out with a flash light, pad of paper and a pen, a digital still camera and a recorder. Your recorder can be an older analog model or a digital. Although some people prefer one over the other, however each of them provide good results and will run you about $30-60. Another good piece of basic equipment is a digital thermometer. You should be able to pick one up for about $10. This will help in identifying significant temperature fluctuations in an area which could signify the presence of a spirit.

As your finances allow, you would likely add an EMF meter (used to measure the Electro Magnetic Fluctuations) video camera and a good audio software package. As time goes on you will expand you armaments to incorporate perhaps a laptop, addition monitors and surveillance equipment. By this time however, your experience and understanding of paranormal activity, as well as what area of paranormal research you want to pursue, will guide you on towards acquiring additional equipment.

Now although many think that investigating is cool and adventurous, it can also be very boring.

Spirits usually do not comply on demand and we as investigators have to be patient and give them ample time to focus their energy into a response. If that is, in fact, their desire. My philosophy is to always respect the spirits. Remember they are not there to do parlor tricks; they have moved on to a higher plan of existence and although I can claim to know what their ultimate purpose it, I can be certain it is not to entertain us.

Introduce yourself

 It’s best to introduce your selves to the spirits when you enter, letting them know you come to observe and that you mean them no harm. Asking for their help or communication doesn’t hurt. Let them know that although you may have equipment they are not familiar with; it is safe and will not harm them. You may even go as far as explaining what they equipment is intended to capture, so that they feel free to interact with it.

Next, if you have brought cameras, find a safe place for them to be set up. Some groups prefer to leave them alone and unmanned, simply taking the time to switch out tapes (note: to eliminate the possibility of false positives, it is good practice to use virgin tapes).

Addition interview time with the occupants may be necessary or reveal new information or experiences. After which your efforts for recording and observing should begin.


Investigation No No’s


– No trespassing.

Why? Going to jail for trespassing; this make all investigators look bad.


– No drinking or drugs should be consumed prior to an investigation or during review of your evidence.

Why? It leaves too much room for blame your experience and interpretation of it on the influence of the drug or alcohol element.


– No smoking in location or on the property during the gathering or obtaining of evidence.

Why? Doing so is disrespectful of the location; it could cover up phantom smells and/or lead to false positives (erroneous/man-made) in photographic evidence


– No perfume or cologne.

Why? Phantom smells are harder to detect when there are other smells in the area.


– No dangling or clinking jewelry or key chains.

Why?  These noises can create false positives in your audio evidence.


– Do not dismantle, or dig without permission.

Why?  Simply put, it’s destructive and bad business practice.


– Do not whisper .

Why?  It makes analyzing audio recordings difficult and can be easily mistaken for EVP


– Do not attach anything to walls, woodwork furniture floors etc… with tape that is not easily removable.

Why?  It can irreparably damage property that is not yours


– Do not bring young children.

Why? Generally, children cannot follow protocol well and the noises they make and the things they do create all sorts of false positives in the evidence of investigations. Care should be taken in choosing at what age and in what capacity to allow children involvement with an investigation.


– Do not bring animals.

Why? Same as for the children mentioned above. With that said animals can be brought in for short periods of time for experimental and reaction based evidence collection


Investigation Must’s


– Be respectful of the property and its contents

Why? Because it is good business, it shows respect as well as the quality of professionalism in your group and of the paranormal investigation field


– Be courteous to the individuals, occupants and/or owners at all times

Why? Because it is good business


– Leave everything the way you found it.

Why? Because it is good business and shows respect


– Bring extra batteries.

Why? Spirit energies tend to suck the life out of new or otherwise perfectly charged batteries.


– Bring a flashlight.

Why? In case you are caught in the dark, in unfamiliar territory, or need to see in a very dimly lit area


– Bring a 1st aid kit.

Why? I shouldn’t have to explain this one, right?


– Bring a pad of paper for taking notes.

Why? It is better than trying to rely on your memory to note things like time, the
circumstances of the event and who was in the room.


– Bring an audio recorder.

Why?  For an attempt to capture an EVP and to document your efforts throughout the investigation.


– Bring a camera.

Why? To attempt to photograph paranormal situations and to help document your efforts throughout the investigation.


– Set you camera to the highest resolution

Why? Although it will create the need to down load more frequently, it will give you the best quality images. This way, when dealing with a photo containing an anomaly, zooming in won’t cause such pixilation or a significant loss of integrity.


– Wear appropriate shoes.

Why? High heels in a grave yard might cause a twisted ankle; clogs indoors will cause clunking sounds and false positives on recordings.


– Bring and use only painters tape to secure items in place on furniture, wood, walls or carpets.

Why? This tape will not leave residue or damage the material it is attached to.


– Be respectful of the neighbors and keep noise to a minimum.

Why? It is often the case that paranormal investigators are looked at as odd or strange and represent views or reality that others are not comfortable with. So always try to represent yourself and your field the way you want outsiders to see and remember you. Also, realize that they and their children generally sleep at night.


– If damage occurs, report it immediately and make arrangements for rectifying the damage.

Why? Because it is respectful and good business practice.


– Document significant or possible paranormal activity with the time, witnesses who were present, activity or conversation just prior to the experience and where all team members where during the occurrence.

Why? This will help to rule out human err and/or false positives in your evidence.


– When something significant happens, try to recreate the experience.

Why? This will help determine how likely it is that the experience was paranormal in nature.


– Communicate with your team members what is expected from each individual, and what roll each member will play (i.e. what tasks they will perform and what responsibilities they will have during the investigation).

Why? This will help prevent arguments and misunderstandings, and diminish the
questioning of the whereabouts of individuals at any given time.


– Be aware of how sound travels at the location.

Why? Voices traveling through air ducts to the upper or lower floors could be mistaken for EVP.


– Have one “go to person” to report activity, personal experiences and other significant activity or experiences

Why?  This allows for an impartial assessment and makes available unbiased validation which could lead to otherwise unrealized relationships regarding independent experiences as opposed to reports influenced by what others feel or see.


– When audio recording make note of things like passing cars, dog barks, yawning and burps of team members, etc…

Why? So that normal noises aren’t mistaken for EVP.


– When possible, do a preliminary interview with those who have claimed experiences.

Why?  This allows your team to prepare, to know where the hot spots are, to know what to possible experience to expect when doing the investigation; giving your team a better chance to capture significant evidence


– Leave every investigation location the way you found it or better; i.e. vacuum before leaving, replace moved furniture or items and straighten up.

Why?  The better chance you have of making a good impression and earning a good word of mouth reference for future investigations


– When going to a location, do a little research on the location before doing the investigation. The more research the better informed and the better prepared you are to meet and discuss the situation with the owners/occupant.

Why?  This will give you a better understanding of the location’s history and perhaps a clue to the possible causes of activity and how to approach the investigation supporting a better outcome


– Try to maintain as much control in the environment as possible (i.e. turn off extraneous generators of noise; refrigerators, furnaces, cell phones, don’t eat a meal of beans or burritos prior to the investigation etc… If the dog barks when it is placed out of the way and in the back yard, it may be necessary to let him mingle with investigators in the house to cut down on the intrusive sounds he makes in the yard.

Why?  In trying to experiment or collect data, one must approach it as scientifically as possible. Since you cannot control spirit energy or ghostly activity, you must control, as much as possible to obtain the best and most consistent level of evidence (the physical and environmental aspects as well as the human elements within your investigation are always in your control. Be assured this is not an easy task and one that takes a lot of practice.


– When taking photographs, always take at least two in a row of the same thing.

Why? If one shows an anomaly then you have another shot within a short timeframe to show change and have something to compare it to.


Let me know if there is something specific that you find works well for your investigation.

About Debra Pickman

After living in an extremely haunted location with my husband who was physically and mentally brutalized by an unseen force my husband and I became experienced investigators applying our knowledge to other locations. We continue to speak at events, conferences and on radio shows around the world. Contact me at


  1. I agree that when attempting to help someone with a paranormal investigation, it is best to be respectful and gracious, especially if you’re new. You also mention that the initial interview will able to decide what equipment you are going to need for this investigation. I think it’s a good idea to start out by shadowing a more practiced paranormal investigator before starting off on your own.

    • Hello Cindy,

      A very good point. It would definitely be a good idea to shadow or join an experienced team for numerous investigations before heading out on your own. They really is a lot more to learn about than television depicts. LOL

      Thank you for your comment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *