How Handwriting is Analyzed in Forensics: The Basics

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Identification of handwriting is based on the fact that individual features of handwriting aid in distinguishing the writing pattern of different people. Similar to how no two people are alike, handwriting is also not the same in their combination of characteristics. However, each person has their own variation of each characteristic. 

The process of systematic analysis of any evidence involves certain key components:-

I: – Analysis of element determination wherein, the unknown and the known sample are reduced to habits of behaviour that play significant role in differentiation. They may often be easily observed, perceived or conveniently measured.

II: – Comparison in which the discriminating element of the unknown sample is compared with the known, observed and recorded standards.

III: – It involves Evaluation where the degree of similarities and dissimilarities in these elements are assessed depending on the factors controlling their occurrence.

The cause of such variations are plenty although the natural variations do play an important role. These variations are due to simply because every person’s brain and personality is different. This manifests as imprecisions in a person’s habitual writing.

The following write up will highlight different class and individual characteristics that are recognised in handwriting. Furthermore their significance in identifying disguised handwriting and distinguishing them from genuine handwriting.

Characteristics

There are certain factors/variations that give handwriting its individuality. These variations may change, temporarily, the size, slant, aesthetic value of the writing, but the fundamental characteristics don’t alter. Some of the most common factors are: –

  • Illness
  • Fatigue
  • Age
  • Writing material
  • Position of writing
  • Emotional state
  • Physical disturbances
  • Concentration at the time
  • Influence of abusive substances

Class Characteristics

These include the characteristics that a child acquires while learning to write. This is greatly influenced by the trend set of that time and place. These include: –

Movement: These include the movement of the finger, wrist, forearm and the whole arm. Finger movements leave little room for vertical/lateral strokes due to which the pivot changes after a few syllables. The writing is angular, has small arcs at the base, palm rests on the paper and there is little freedom of movement. Wrist movements make handwriting angular, scratchy, pivot lies above the wrist with abundant lateral and vertical freedom. Forearm movements are where fingers and wrist remain rigid, pivot is above elbow thus permitting vertical and lateral freedom while the end to end strokes are long with straight writing. Whole arm movements have pivot at the shoulder with large letters and massive lateral and vertical freedom.

Line quality: It is a combination of writing skill, speed, rhythm, pen position etc. Experienced writers write with uniformity. Each stroke is natural and smooth. The connecting strokes are continuous with the exception of the occasional pen lifts. In forgeries, pen-pauses, pen lifts and hesitation marks are very common. The quality becomes poor and the complete opposite if the writer is weak, illiterate, using non-dominant hand or is influenced.

Speed: Everyone writes at a different speed. This makes it significant for differentiation. It may be judged through the stroke quality and seen as broad, moderate or slow. 

Skill: It is the appreciation of aesthetics in handwriting. Those with good skills show fluid rhythmicity and aesthetically pleasing writing style while others have a hesitant and an unpleasant writing style.  

Rhythm: It’s prevalent in educated folks with enough experience where their writing has flow, good line quality, punctuation and proportion of letters. It is difficult to imitate.

Spacing: It may be narrow, even, medium or even inconsistent and signifies the space between letters/words/lines etc.

Slant: It is the angle of inclination and may lean towards left or right. It may change within a word, sentence, paragraph and page itself.

Style: It conforms through time and establishes itself depending upon a person’s choice, influences and preferences.  

Alignment: It relates to writing with respect to the baseline. The baseline may be pre-formed or imaginary. It can slant upward, downward, concave or convex. It may be regular throughout the text of change often.

Connecting strokes: Also called as ligatures, these join letters and produce a flow of letters to form a word. These could be arches, garlands, angles or even thread-like.

Size/proportion of letters: It refers to the combination of the size of block and small letters which are almost always fixed and usually remain constant.

Pictorial effect: It represents the skill of the writer. It maybe clumsy or artistic. The aesthetic view often highlights the type of writer it may have been i.e. educated & experienced, illiterate, old etc. Forgeries are often carried out by those with a high skill set who produce a near perfect handwriting. The exact copy is not possible as one has to forget their own handwriting and take up another’s. 

Writing habit: For thorough examination or forgery, the manner of writing of an individual must be known. That means analysing each and every class characteristic of an individual’s writing through consistent and frequent practice. 

Tremors: These are common in old, weak, inebriated and illiterate people. Although situational, they have a pattern of their own. In forgeries, it can be pointed out by analysing the changes in tremor curves.  

Muscle co-ordination: The degree with which the muscles involved in writing varies with people. A balance is present between the last joint of the 2nd finger and the ball of the thumb when the pen is stationary and the 1st finger’s weight lies on top of the pen. In a down stroke, contractor muscles of 1st and partly 2nd come into play. Extensor muscles of thumb exert during to keep the pen in position. The exact opposite happens in an upward stroke.  

Individual Characteristics

It denotes the personal identification quirks and peculiarities in a handwriting that make it unique to the individual. They may be acquired consciously or incorporated during the learning process. The best way to identify these are: –

  • Identify and differentiate characteristics that are most divergent from the standard.
  • Repeated characteristics which may appear to be inconspicuous at the beginning.
  • Characteristics which are seen to be modified or individualised by various writers. It can be perceived as those characters that creates the ‘personal touch’ in a person writing.

Standard Form of Writing

In Irby Todd’s paper ‘The Process of Comparison’, he talks about what may be considered as normal in writing: –

  • The form of words must be smooth, rounded with unbroken strokes.
  • Misplacement of the dots on the letter ‘I’ and in the crosses in ‘ts’.
  • Illegible tapering of letters at the end of words.
  • Pressure differences observed in upward strokes and downward strokes.
  • Delicate pressure present at the beginning and ending strokes in the letters.
  • Joining of initials or words in large texts.
  • Wide writing and spacing.
  • Simplification of forms, such as capitals.
  • Absence of approach strokes to certain letters, for example, a, f, h, t, u, v, and w.

Disguised Handwriting

In this, a person will try to change, alter or modify their writing without adapting someone else’s writing style. The letter designs tend to be changed in this. Although it must be kept in mind that disguising one’s writing is different from forgery. The following characteristics are generally found to be employed:

  • Slow, broken strokes, tremulous lines i.e. with an appearance of drawing.
  • Unnecessary retouching of strokes or letters, frequent pen-lifts.
  • Blunt beginning and ending strokes.
  • Lack of difference in pressure on upward and downward strokes.
  • Greater deliberation or care at the start of a name or word. In an attempt to disguise, the person becomes extra conscious and thus deliberates more.  
  • Awkward looking forms due to inexperience in the altered form.
  • Meaningless blobs or marks in an attempt to disguise original form.
  • Frequent change in the angle of writing.
  • Acute angles.
  • Difference in speed within the writing itself.
  • Letters ‘f, y and g’ will show abnormal loops.
  • Letters ‘d, e, h, m and n’ will have curved terminal strokes.
  • Letters ‘a and d’ show common body design.
  • Letters ‘n, m and h’ will show in the concave shape a heavily shaded down stroke.
  • Letters ‘u and y’ have a similar angular trough.
  • Letters ‘g, j, q, y and z’ showcase a particular design in the lower loop.
  • If there is a change in one letter, a corresponding change must be there in its structurally related letters.

However it is not possible to introduce and maintain a disguise through the whole text. They will eventually get tired, lose concentration and will ultimately revert to their original writing style. Above all, there are some features that can’t be disguised. They are: –

  • The fluency, rhythm and letter design will not change with respect to that which is the writer’s normal.
  • The spacing characteristics of the words and in between the letters will not change.
  • Marginal habits, underlining of words and the use of erasure can also not be disguised.

As stated earlier, disguising the writing is not forgery. It lacks originality due to the excessive ornamentation through loops, lines, twirls etc. Another important difference is the lack of consistency. Unlike in forgery, if a document is indicated to be disguised, possibilities lie in the fact that somewhere in that disguise, the true inconspicuous and identifiable features of the original writing will be prevalent.    


References

  1. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:- https://www.forensictapeanalysisinc.com/Articles/disguised_writings.htm
  2. Saferstein, R., Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science. (7th Edition)
  3. Fisher, B.A.J., Tilstone, W.J., Woytowicz, C. (2009): Introduction to Criminalistics: The foundation of forensic science.

Published by Allena Andress

||Bibliophile|| Biotechnologist|| Aspiring Forensic Science specialist|| Researcher|| Closet singer and dancer|| Motivational Speaker||

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: