A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
TO HANDWRITING ANALYSIS
by Joelle Steele
Handwriting is so unique that it can be analyzed. This is because all children learn to print or write cursive by copying the same models of letters, but each child copies just a little bit differently. Over time and with use, those differences become more pronounced. By the time we are teenagers, our ability to write is automatic. As adults, our handwriting is unique to each of us. As we age, our handwriting changes under stress, with different health issues, etc., and continues to evolve and change right up until the day we die.
Among the many handwriting traits that can be analyzed are slant, speed, size, spacing, pen pressure, and position of handwriting on the page, as well as the finer characteristics of each letter, including the cross bars on t's, the dots on i's, and the height and width — even the absence — of loops. No two handwriting samples by two different writers are ever exactly the same, no matter how similar they may appear to be on the surface.
Handwriting analysis is taught at universities in Europe and in workshops and seminars throughout the United States. It is most widely accepted and used in the United States when applied to forgery detection. However, since 1970, even the psychological interpretation of handwriting has become more widely accepted and is used by some experts for personnel selection and for the profiling of unidentified writers.
Handwriting can be analyzed for use in forgery detection and in the identification of unknown writers. This is usually called document examination or graphoanalysis to distinguish it from graphology, which uses all the same handwriting traits but interprets them psychologically for the purpose of personality profiling.
In forgery detection, handwriting analysts examine and compare handwriting that is known to be that of an individual, and compare that handwriting to the handwriting found on a suspected forged document. In document examination (as with personality profiling), the documents being analyzed should ideally be originals. Handwriting that has been reproduced by a photographic process, such as photocopies, microfiche, carbon copies, faxing, scanning, etc., is not generally as acceptable. These duplication processes have improved greatly over the years, but they still prevent an expert from analyzing certain traits such as pen pressure and type of pen used, and some processes may additionally enhance or obscure certain handwriting features. Since it is often the smallest and finest of handwriting features that distinguish one writer from another (or one personality trait from another), it is always recommended that original documents be analyzed.
Hate mail, threatening letters, and ransom notes are usually written by someone who wants to remain anonymous. But, more often than not, the writer is known to the person who is receiving their mail. There are three approaches to identifying anonymous writers, and some or all can be used depending on how much handwriting is available to be analyzed. First, the hate mail can be analyzed and compared to samples of writing by known potential enemies of the recipient. Second, if there is enough handwriting to do so, the hate mail can be psychologically profiled. And third, again if there is enough handwriting to do so, the hate mail can be linguistically profiled, which involves analyzing the content language of the writer to uncover additional information about the writer, such as their geographic origin, educational level and, sometimes, their state-of-mind.
Using handwriting analysis to make personnel hiring decisions is considered controversial by some. This is because they believe it is discriminatory. But a reputable handwriting expert is interested only in traits that identify the writer as having the skills necessary for a particular position. The employer provides the writing samples and a list of skills and abilities. The analysis is then made to determine which candidate, among several, is best qualified for the job. Age, race, gender, religion, physical appearance, etc., do not ever enter the picture since the handwriting analyst never meets the person and never sees their name or other personal information. In this way, a handwriting expert is far more unbiased than any human resources interviewer.
Personnel selection evaluations can be performed in much greater depth and accuracy if there are some handwritten essay questions on the employment application. For example, applicants can be asked to answer two or three short essay questions, such as how they would handle a particular type of problem (in 25 to 35 words — not 25 words or less, as they may not write enough to be properly evaluated).
Graphology is commonly used to look into an individual's personality. Each handwriting trait is analyzed and a personality profile is created that describes how the person thinks and acts, the way they handle relationships, their strong points and weak ones, their best career choices, and a host of other characteristics. The handwriting samples of two or more people can be compared to see how they might get along as marital partners, co-workers, etc.
Similarly to personnel selection, the more handwriting samples or the bigger a particular handwriting sample, the more personality detail can be exacted from the handwriting. Both text and signature should always be analyzed for personality profiles, as they reflect different information about the writer.
To create a handwriting sample for use in personality profiling, use white, unlined, 8-2 x 11 paper, and dark ink — ballpoint, no pencils or felt tip pens. Part of the sample should be written in first person (e.g., I got up, I went to ..., etc.). At least half a page should be written, and it should be in the writer's normal size and speed. Neatness and content do not count in any kind of handwriting analysis; in fact, if the writer tries to be neat, the analysis will likely be inaccurate. The sample should be signed the way the writer normally would sign a bank check or any legal document.
This article last updated: 05/26/2012.