Frequently Asked Questions

Can you tell an individual's personality from examining handwriting?

Forensic document examination does not develop information about personality. There is a separate field of study called "Graphology" which deals with personality and handwriting.

Can you tell if a person is right handed or left handed by examining the handwriting?

Unlikely. There are three areas that cannot be determined by examining handwriting. One of them is whether the writer is right-handed or left-handed. The other two are the writer's age and gender.

Given two type of writing, one in printed form and the other in cursive form. Can you make any comparison and authentication from them?

Only in some rare cases. Some writers write in a mix of cursive and printed forms, thereby allowing the examiner to carry out some level of examination on either cursive or printed writing. There are also many factors other than letter formation that enter into the examination and analysis process. However, it is generally accepted that the materials to be compared need to be written in the same style: cursive to cursive, hand printing to hand printing, upper case to upper case, lower case to lower case, and one of the first steps in methodology is to determine that the materials provided are indeed comparable according to this principle.

Can you examine documents in a foreign language?

Yes, it is possible, but the examiner must first learn about the characteristics of the written language and how that writing is taught. For example, in some languages, placement of diacritics (distinguishing strokes) is important, and in other languages, shading of handwritten strokes is significant. The actual methods of examination are the same, but factors are weighed differently when the structure of the writing varies among languages.

How many samples of handwriting/signature is needed for comparison?

There is no definite number of specimens to be considered adequate. However, a forensic document examination cannot be adequately performed when comparing one signature to one other signature. Handwriting identification is based on habits. Habits can only be determined through the scrutinization of numerous specimens. The client should make a dedicated effort to obtain as many specimens as they can possibly find. Ordway Hilton states, “With many problems, 10 – 20 signatures should constitute an adequate sample, but there are a certain number of cases that may require 30, 40 or even more to reveal the writer’s habits, ability, and range of variation. Regardless of these suggestions, though, a person submitting a problem should always strive to obtain as large a quantity of handwriting as possible rather than merely to fulfill minimum requirements.”

Can a client fax documents to you for examination?

There is a wide range in reproduction quality of faxed documents. Until recently a faxed document was of minimal use for comparison of handwriting. The fax process could digitize the writing line, obscure details, and add flaws to the document. A large number of fax machines still produce poor quality documents. However, there are now higher quality fax machines, and there is also a process of electronic faxing in which a document is scanned and transmitted to a virtual fax number through the internet. As a result, there are some faxed documents of improved clarity and containing more detail. It is best to evaluate faxed documents on a case-by-case basis. It is always best handled by examination of the actual documents.

Can a document examiner work with photocopies of questioned document?

This question must be answered on a case by case basis. If the copy is of good quality, and if there is enough information in the writing to allow an opinion, a copy can be sufficient. But there are some situations where the opinion rests on a subtle aspect of the writing that might only be visible on an original viewed under the microscope. In such situations, examination of the original is critical. Often the examiner's opinion must be qualified due to limitations on the examination process due to submission of non-original documents.