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What Does a Handwriting Specialist Do?

By Britt Archer
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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A handwriting specialist is a person who studies the science of handwriting. In studying handwriting samples, a handwriting analyst relies on the belief that each person’s handwriting is as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint; people generally learn how to write by being taught the same letters with similar methods, but their handwriting changes as they grow up with individual alterations and flourishes. A handwriting specialist can be asked to work with documents that are questionable because the documents’ status is in doubt. Authorship may need to be verified, or officials may need to know the documents’ authenticity, seeking confirmation the documents have not been forged.

Initial document examinations performed by a handwriting specialist include determining which of the handwriting sample’s characteristics are due to which of the various handwriting methods the subject was taught, and which characteristics belong solely to the individual whose handwriting is being examined, with the latter being of prime importance in questionable documents. This facet of the job has been used to help convict bank robbers and kidnappers, with one of the most famous cases of the 20th century being the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in Hopewell, New Jersey, in 1932. The kidnapper sent more than a dozen notes seeking ransom, and authorities were left with the task of analyzing the handwriting on the notes to see if it matched the man they suspected of the crime.

A handwriting specialist concluded all the ransom notes were written by the same person, and he also concluded the suspect, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, had written them, but in later years doubt has been cast upon the process that was used to obtain a sample of Bruno Hauptmann’s handwriting for comparison. Since then, the approved method of gathering a handwriting sample in similar situations has been changed for better oversight. In another type of case, a handwriting specialist could help determine if a celebrity’s autograph is genuine, or if someone who bought the autograph has been duped by a forgery.

Forensic document analysts put a lot of time into their examinations of handwriting samples, and they tend to be meticulous and thorough. The science, however, is not infallible because it is based on subjective analysis, and is not as reliable as a fingerprint or DNA. A development that aims to make the process of handwriting analysis less subjective is the Forensic Information System for Handwriting, a computer-driven analysis. The conclusions of a handwriting specialist are not always admissible in court.

A forensic handwriting examiner is not the same as a graphologist, who also studies handwriting samples but with a different purpose in mind. Graphology looks at handwriting with the goal of finding clues about a person’s personality and character traits. Scientific handwriting analysts view graphology as more of an art than a science. Some people look at graphology as pure fluff, but certain employers use it to screen applicants, and sometimes law enforcement officials even use it to profile a suspect.

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