The How handwriting analysis works.


How does handwriting analysis work?

Handwriting analysis is a type of investigative tactic that authorities such as federal agents, the police, and detectives may use to link someone to a specific crime. When a crime is committed, there may be certain types of evidence such as signed financial documents or handwritten notes that can be used to place someone at the scene of a crime, or can be used as another part of evidence that may be critical to a case. Of course, when these documents are entered into a case as evidence their authenticity is often questioned and so, the handwriting must be analyzed to determine that a suspect, witness, or someone else involved in the case, did indeed write the note themselves.

Handwriting analysis is part of forensic science, which also covers things such as DNA analysis, fingerprint analysis, and voice identification, to name just a few. When there is handwriting that requires analysis, a team of handwriting experts will be called in and given the chance to study the documents in question and make their evaluation of it. Their job is very important and these experts must make every effort to form a conclusive evaluation. Many times, this analysis will lead to a person being convicted of a crime so the experts must take every precaution and backtrack their work many, many times before coming to their final conclusion. The fact that handwriting analysis is based on opinion is one reason why it’s sometimes criticized. Should the handwriting experts make a mistake, they could send an innocent person to prison.

Handwriting analysis falls under the questioned documents area of forensic science. This area covers any documents that are suspicious, questionable, or could otherwise be related to the case. The handwriting experts that are called in to examine these documents are called questioned documents examiners (QDE) and they will examine the documents looking for signs of forgery, alterations, or similarities. It’s a long and detailed process which requires specific knowledge of how certain letters are formed by certain people. Handwriting analysis also determines the level of fine motor skills that person has and how these affected the way a document was written. Typed documents from a computer or other machine can also be used for analysis purposes. In this type of case, both the machine and the document will be analyzed to prove that the document came from a certain type of machine.

Simulation is another area of handwriting analysis that the experts must be able to recognize and disregard. Simulation occurs when someone has tried to replicate someone else’s handwriting, or when they are trying to make their own handwriting look different. This is something that can easily be recognized by the experts but it’s another area why handwriting analysis can be such a complicated area.

The entire idea behind handwriting analysis is that every person’s handwriting is unique and like their fingerprints, no two people can have exactly the same. Although, when we were in primary school, we all learned the fundamentals of writing, these fundamentals serve as merely the foundation of our writing as we continue to grow into our adult lives. As we get older, we begin to adopt our own style of writing and while this style may be formed from the basics that we learned in our early years, every person will put their own unique style into their handwriting. It’s not uncommon that two people would share one or two characteristics within their handwriting. But handwriting experts argue that it’s impossible for two people to share twenty or thirty of the same characteristics – and therein lays the science of handwriting analysis.

The fundamentals of handwriting that we all learned in school are known as style characteristics and these go largely ignored by handwriting experts as they contain little information that would be useful. It is the individual characteristics, those which make the handwriting unique from any other, that the experts will most focus on. When handwriting experts are ready to analyze a document, they will use a document with a known author and compare it with a document from an unknown author, looking for individual characteristics. When two documents are being compared, it’s not the similarities that experts will look at but the differences. Because handwriting can be so similar, it will be the differences that will be able to narrow it down enough to determine if the document written by the unknown author uses the same handwriting as that of the document with the known author. However, narrowing it down is not nearly the same thing as being able to point to one person who committed the crime. This means that the experts still have a long process ahead of them to determine the author of certain handwriting.

Analyzing a Sample

Analyzing a handwriting sample first starts with obtaining exemplars, or comparisons, that can be compared with the questioned document. In some cases, there may be many exemplars, such as in the Lindbergh kidnapping that occurred in 1932, a highly publicized case in which handwriting analysis was greatly relied on. This was because during the crime, the kidnapper had written 14 ransom notes and each note was considered to be a questioned document and evidence. Even though experts could determine that each note had been written by the same person, finding out who wrote them was crucial to the case. And the fact that they had almost no documents written by their main suspect, Richard Bruno Hauptmann didn’t help. Because of this, Hauptmann was forced to write samples that were dictated by policemen while he was being held in custody at the police station.

But since that time, it’s come to light that the ways in which these samples were obtained were not exactly proper. Hauptmann was forced to write the same thing over and over again for hours on end until he nearly collapsed from exhaustion. The police that were dictating the document also told him how to write it, and even told him he needed to copy the questioned documents as best he could! Of course, these are all practices that have been abolished today and strict regulations are set in place to ensure that those who’s handwriting is being analyzed is being treated with respect and that an objective and thorough analysis is done to determine the original author.

The process of handwriting analysis becomes even more complicated when you take into consideration that not only do no two people have identical handwriting but also, no person ever writes exactly the same way twice. There are natural variations, slips of pen, and different pressure points that are applied differently every time a person writes. However, the individual characteristics will always be present in one person’s handwriting and it is these that the questioned document examiners are looking for during their analysis. The process is extremely long and can take days, weeks, or even months, if new documents are constantly coming into play. The experts will use everything from magnifying glasses to microscopes to make sure that they properly scrutinize the handwriting to make a correct analysis.

There are many different individual traits that handwriting experts will look at but the three main ones include letter form, line form, and formatting. When they look at letter form, they’ll look at how the letters are curved and slanted as well as their proportion. The experts will look at how tall some letters are in relation to how small others are. How the letters are linked to each other, if they have lines in between and how long or sloped those lines are will also be considered when the experts are examining letter form. Many people write different letters differently, depending on where they fall within a word. Because of this, experts will examine the same letter, but will take it from each word of a sentence in order to come to the most accurate conclusion.

When handwriting experts examine line form, they will mostly be looking for how dark and light the letters are. This will show them how much pressure the author applied while they were writing, as well as how quickly they were writing. Formatting refers to the way the lines and letters are set up on a page. Analysts will look at how wide the margins are on the page, how much spacing is in between individual letters, as well as the spacing between different lines. Whether or not the letters from one line come down to touch letters of the next line will also be looked at when experts are looking at formatting and the spacing between lines will also be considered.

Simulation, which we mentioned briefly before, makes this process much more difficult. Whether someone is trying to copy a sample of handwriting, or if they are trying to disguise theirs from it as much as possible, either situation presents a problem for the handwriting experts. Not having a proper comparison can make the process even longer, even more tedious and sometimes, impossible to determine a correct or incorrect match. However there are a few common simulation traits that analysts will look for to determine if the sample is misleading. Shaky lines indicate nervousness or uncertainty and words that begin and finish very dark show that careful thought was placed into writing them. Pen lifts, areas where the pen has been taken right off the page, are another clear indication that the writer was very methodical about the process and that they did not write the sample in a natural fashion.

There are still a few hurdles to overcome in the handwriting analysis world because it is so largely subjective and based on one, or a team’s, professional opinion. Often this type of analysis and evidence is admissible into court but as well, often times it’s not. Nowadays, certifications and regulations are constantly being put into place so that this type of analysis can become known as a more profound science and taken seriously by all members of the science and law enforcement communities.

handwriting analysis.

 How handwriting analysis works.

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