General Writing Board

Vademecum Graphologist

As part of the development of standards for expert appraisal, the General Writing Board holds regular meetings on current issues in the field of handwriting studies. As a result of the meetings, among other things, documents aiming at the development of the industry in the country are drawn up, as well as the determination of the rules of conducting examination, necessary elements of the examination report (written opinion), qualification framework for the handwriting profession and the criteria for assessing the qualifications of the persons providing opinions.

The proceedings to date (September 2019, February 2020) have resulted in the following documents, which form the basis of the work of graphologist and their candidates.

As part of the development of the field and the unification of the substantive framework and the principles of expert appraisal, the General Writing Board has developed the Code of Conduct for the Expert Witness.

The document contains guidelines concerning qualifications which entitle to practice the profession, as well as principles of reliable practice of the profession and criteria for complete, clear and internally consistent expert opinions.

The aim of the above is to set out the principles of work in the community of graphologists, to develop a substantive framework which will allow to determine which research and resulting opinions have been carried out in a correct, complete, clear manner.

A set of such rules is crucial for setting and maintaining quality standards of examinations and writing opinions used in proceedings as evidence.

Within the framework of the development of the field and unification of the substantive framework, on the basis of the “Catalogue of Graphical Handwriting Characteristics” created in 1984-1989 by the Autumn School of Empiricism, as well as on the basis of contemporary research possibilities, the GWB developed an up-to-date resource of graphic phenomena necessary to be measured and analysed within the framework of reliable and correct conduct of any type-writing analysis.

The “List of Graphic Handwriting Characteristics” developed by the handwriting experts of the GWB contains all possible and obligatory verifiable graphic phenomena specified by contemporary handwriting science and technological development.
By the resolution of the GWB members, the experts unanimously agreed that this resource indicates obligatory features to be checked, which for the whole set of examined material the results should be comparatively presented in the content of the opinion as a course of research giving grounds for conclusions.

Handwriting studies that do not include the compiled List of Graphic Handwriting Characteristics will mean incomplete work and will not comply with substantive guidelines.
The above is intended to unify the substantive framework, which will make it possible to determine which studies and the resulting opinions have been carried out in a correct, complete, clear manner.
Such a set is crucial for setting and maintaining quality standards for handwriting examinations and opinions used as evidence in proceedings.

On the basis of the “Catalogue of Graphic Features of Paraphrases”, which is well-known from the literature on the subject, as well as on the basis of contemporary research possibilities, the GWB has developed an up-to-date resource of graphic phenomena of paraphrases that are necessary to measure and analyse as part of reliable and correct conduct of any type-writing analyses.

The “Catalogue of Graphical Features of Paraphrases”, compiled by the GWB’s hand-writing experts, contains all the possible and obligatory verifiable graphical phenomena of abbreviated and illegible graphisms, as specified by contemporary scribal science and technological developments.

WHO ASKS DOES NOT WANDER

In answering this question, it is first necessary to explain what writing is in general. Writing is one of the forms of expressing human thoughts. At the same time, it serves as a reflection of speech, as a medium of communication and as a carrier of information. Writing ensures the permanence of knowledge, thanks to which it is clear to us today that different types of writing have developed successively over the centuries. The evolution points to pictographic, ideographic, analytical, phonetic, syllabic and alphabetic writing. The latter is currently the most widely used typeface. It has a simplified form, concreteness and speed of transmission. Due to the fact that the term ‘writing’ is considered to be commonly understood, it is rarely explicitly defined in publications. The dictionary definition indicates that it is “1. a set of graphic signs in the form of letters making up a given alphabet, as well as: what has been written, expressed by such signs; 2. a magazine, newspaper or any other similar text written by hand or by machine”. Regardless of the dictionary definition, it is worth noting that, in practice, the term is used in two senses: broad and narrow. According to the former, writing is the totality of signs serving to record and preserve the spoken message, and thus also signs forming signatures, while according to the latter, the term does not include signatures. However, due to the lack of unambiguous terminology, in practice, the term is used in both cases, which as a rule does not cause misunderstandings, because most often the exact meaning results from the context in which the formulation is used. Following this and in the present analysis, the convention of the meaning of “writing” in broad terms has been adopted.

An important aspect of explaining the concept of ‘writing’ is to emphasise the dynamics of the writing process. It involves a complex simultaneous motor and neurological activity in which the motor, sensory, visual and speech systems play their roles. From the above it can be concluded that handwriting is a graphic translation of speech, the image of which is influenced by psycho-motor circumstances. Just as unique is the way each person functions, so unique is the image of what all systems and external circumstances create in the common writing process. These individualised factors make handwriting strictly characteristic for each of us.The above has to do with the graphic layer of writing, which is one of the four that are subject to handwriting examination.

The following layers can be distinguished: graphic, linguistic, content, technical, but the graphic layer is the only one that is strictly individual, not repeated in other people. It has to do with the process of personalisation of writing, which at a certain stage of its development takes on separate forms, differentiation of individual features of writing. In writing, sets of features appear and become fixed, which make the graphism of each person different. This layer is particularly important in forensic research, however, current document research also provides for the analysis of another of the mentioned layers of writing, which is the linguistic one. The process of learning a language and adopting it as one’s own depends on factors such as education, occupation, living environment, and interests. The analysis of the characteristics of language, i.e. style, syntax, vocabulary, etc. often makes it possible to identify the group of people to which the author belongs, and in cases where this group is narrow, even individual identification. Linguistic analysis is connected to another layer of writing, namely the content layer, which is expressed through the language used. Another aspect is the technical layer, which includes the characteristics of the substrate (type, age, types of damage, etc.), the characteristics of the covering paste (type, time, manner of application) and the characteristics of the writing medium (type, quality, manner of handling).

The process of individualisation of writing is reflected in graphic features. In general terms, a feature is a characteristic of a given thing, phenomenon or person. Under the term “handwriting feature” we should therefore understand the properties of a handwriting, its characteristic elements, which are presented in the collection in the form of the List of Graphical Characteristics of Handwriting. In it, from general to specific, there are such values as: the type of handwriting, its degree of refinement, the way it is made, and also, more specifically, such as size, width of characters, slant, speed of writing, word or line spacing, force and evenness of pressure, the way diacritics are drawn, proportions of graphical elements’ heights, line shape, structure of characters, type of bonds, additional elements, … … Handwriting testing consists of measuring/analysing the results of all these features for both the questioned and the comparison material using an appropriate methodology. Only by checking all these characteristics for the results for both will it be possible to give full, reliable conclusions.

In the study of handwriting, in addition to the necessary analysis of the stock of graphic phenomena, it is necessary to take into account the aspect of fluctuation of graphic features. According to the definition we have already quoted above: handwriting is a graphic translation of speech, the image of which is influenced by psycho-motor circumstances. It is these psycho-motor circumstances that are the variables determining the fluctuation of a certain group of handwriting features. As mentioned earlier, the process of handwriting formation involves the work of the neurological and motor systems. Any disturbance of one of them must have an effect on the result of the work, i.e. the graphic image of the handwriting. In psychology the principle of the mutual influence of external stimuli on our inside and vice versa of what happens inside resulting in the external manifestation in the way of being, gestures, dynamics, modes of action and appearance, is obvious. Similarly, every experience, feeling, every thought that contributes to the formation of a person’s character is expressed in all his activities, and thus also in writing. If it is expressed and fixed in writing, there are ways thanks to which it can be read. Knowledge of psychographic analysis allows us to distinguish different features of writing as a result of different psycho-physical circumstances from those features that indicate forgery.

Correctly performed handwriting testing, therefore, consists of measuring the properties specified in the List of Graphic Handwriting Characteristics, and analysing the results taking into account the aspect of natural fluctuation of handwriting characteristics. Handwriting testing is an interdisciplinary activity combining such aspects as: graphometry (character measurement), handwriting science (knowledge of testing methodology), forensics(ability to identify the features of forged handwriting), psychology (understanding the influence of emotions on organism’s functioning), medicine (knowledge of influence of diseases on brain functioning). Each of these elements is equally important for a correct and reliable handwriting examination.

The term “graphology” is derived from Greek (graphein – to write, logos – science) and literally translated means the science of writing. The basic definition contained in the Great Illustrated Gutenberg Encyclopaedia of 1938 correctly describes graphology in a broader, interdisciplinary sense, as “knowledge of the physical and mental conditions under which writing is created”. This definition – despite the fact that it is over 80 years old – accurately and fully reflects the contemporary conclusions of scribal science, which clearly indicate that handwriting is a graphic translation of speech, the image of which is influenced by psycho-motor circumstances.

These findings have identified the following strands of graphology:

  1. a) Forensic graphology – is used mainly in the work of judicial authorities, for which expert graphologists measure the characteristics of questionable and comparison handwriting in order to carry out identification or elimination tests and to issue an expert opinion on the authenticity, homogeneity of graphisms.
  2. b) Psychological graphology – otherwise known as psychographology, concerns the analysis of human personality on the basis of a thorough study of the elements of his/her handwriting, in connection with the existence of relations between the human psyche, character and his/her handwriting. It is used in psychology (therapies, e.g. graphotherapy), human resources management (recruitment, selection, employee evaluation), social sciences.

(c) Clinical Graphology – the study of pathological handwriting, which includes:

  • writing of people struggling with mainly neurological, mental illnesses that alter graphism, e.g. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis; schizophrenia, mental disorders;
  • writing of people after injuries, strokes (requiring convalescence and re-learning of handwriting);
  • writing of the elderly (senile writing);

writing that indicates a psychopathology of the process of producing graphism (examination of the psychophysical state at the time the writing was done), e.g. as a result of being in a state of intoxication, under highly stressful/anxious circumstances, under pressure.

Man has the ability to “influence” the image of his handwriting. The question often arises: what is a person’s character if, for example, one day he slants his handwriting to the right and the next day he writes in a straight line? Indeed, just as when we succumb to momentary emotions, our facial expression or voice timbre may change, the features of our handwritingmay also change. Nevertheless, each manuscript possesses features that remain unchanged regardless of the psychophysical state and they determine a person’s character. The individual characteristics of a given organism, such as the state of health, the state of the nervous system, have a significant impact on writing. It is the result of “a very complex activity determined by the cooperation of a number of mechanisms: motor, sensory, visual, as well as a component of a higher order connected with the activity of speech, the ability to understand linguistic symbols, to write these symbols and to arrange them into sentences”. Writing as a product of psychophysiological processes of the whole human organism, reflects intellectual functions and the efficiency of the motor system. The process of writing involves a decision maker (i.e. specialised parts of the cerebral cortex) and a realiser (i.e. the motor system: motor organ, peripheral motor neuron, central motor neuron, extrapyramidal system, cerebellum). Each of these systems constitutes a highly organised neurophysiological creation, sensitive to any damage and responding to it with movement disorders. These, in turn, reflects the image of writing, causing graphic disorders manifested, for example, in large gaps between words. One definition says that writing is a sign made on paper by muscles of mental centres. These are located in the brain stem and in the cerebral cortex, from which all movements are initiated according to the will of the person, including those that enable the act of writing. With time, as a result of exercise, the movements become automatic and pass to the motor system directed by the cerebral spinal cord. In these centres two centres of particular importance for the writing process are located – the pallidum and the striatum.When they are deactivated, damaged or subjected to strong stimuli (as in a situation of intoxication, lack/reduction of consciousness, pressure, anxiety, stress, for example) our whole motor system changes. According to their functioning, four types of writing emerge: pallid, striate, cortical and subcortical types. Knowledge of these types of writing and the ranges of their disorders allows us to determine the emotional state or state of health/consciousness at the time of writing. This scope applies to the most advanced specialisation of graphology, namely clinical graphology.

Current methods of graphometric measurements of writing allow for the study of the authenticity of graphisms from documents from copies/scans. The widespread belief that the original is indispensable for the study of graphical authenticity stems from the fact that, in the past, one of the characteristics of writing, i.e. pressure, was measured by touching a sheet of paper in order to assess the degree of grooving of the traces of the writing agent on the sheet. This technique was not a measurement, but an assessment by the person making the examination. It should be added here that it was a subjective and not an objective assessment, because for one person the pressure was, for example, strong, while for another person, who had more experience, the pressure was assessed as only moderate. The development of the field of handwriting research provoked by the circumstances in which very often (as a result of random events as well as those lost on purpose) there are no original documents, made it possible to measure the pressure of writing by assessing not only its strength but also the remaining three characteristics listed in the Catalogue of Graphic Handwriting Characteristics. In addition, it should be pointed out that these other features are measurable and not evaluated as in the case of the pressure force. Measurements for the pressure features are made using computer software, magnifiers, appropriate lighting. These features are visible in both the original and the copy. The originals of documents are necessary to establish forgery interference consisting in photomontage of a document with an authentic graphite from another document. In other cases, examination from copies provides full opportunities to establish identifying features for the proband, which are the basis for assessing the authenticity of the writing.

For more on the possibility of examining handwriting from copies, see the legal and forensic opinion available for download under Publications.

The following materials are distinguished in the handwriting examination process:

  1. A) Questioned material – a document about which there are doubts for some of the parties entitled to the case, which should be clarified in the course of the examination. Commonly, such documents are called “evidentiary”, which, however, is a mistake, because only those documents whose examination will show the conclusions, the use of which is justified in the proceedings, constitute evidence. Documents about which there are doubts/questions to be resolved in the course of research are questioned documents.
  2. B) Comparative material – documents with handwritten samples of the handwriting, which there is no doubt were drawn up by the person indicated. In comparative studies they serve as a base to which graphic features from the questioned document are compared. The following groups of comparative material are distinguished:
  3. influential – drawn up for the needs of the research, at the order of e.g. the body commissioning the research, usually with the same content as the questioned one;
  4. non-fluent – outlined freely, with arbitrary content;

            * non-influential unrelated to the case – documents relating to various matters and areas of life that are unrelated to the research case;

            *non-influential related to the case – documents drawn up in connection with the case on which the research is now being conducted, e.g. during the course of the proceedings a person drew up letters to the court; the signatures from these letters may serve as comparative material, but as they relate to the case they are described as case-related non-influential (because they were drawn up without anyone’s instruction).

 

For obvious reasons, in succession cases it is possible to examine only on the basis of non-influential material unrelated to the case. Although this is self-evident, it is sometimes the case that the argument about the absence of this material is an objection to the opinions of expert graphologists, so we will explain that it is not possible for the person whose will is being examined to have drawn up the writings in the succession proceedings after himself, or to have drawn up a sample of the writing on instruction.

 

Non-influential material unrelated to the case is considered the most reliable and objective. Material, however related to the case, and even more influential (in the course of drafting which the person writing, if only due to circumstances of stress or other emotions resulting from the submission of samples of writing for examination, not to mention the occurrence of attempts to deliberately mask the writing), affects its image by distorting the motor features of the writing.

Questioned material is a document about which there are doubts for some of the parties entitled to the case, which in the course of research, should be clarified. Commonly, such documents are called “evidentiary”, which, however, is a mistake, because only those documents whose examination will show the conclusions, the use of which is justified in the proceedings, constitute evidence. Documents about which there are doubts/questions to be resolved in the course of research are questioned documents.

Forensic linguistics is a branch of linguistic science that deals with all types of linguistic analyses that are used in court cases and prosecution proceedings (e.g. stalking, cyberstalking, anonymous research, plagiarism, authorship, infringement of personal rights, hate speech, etc.). It is based on the “forensic linguistic trace”, which is based on the fact that the language of each user is characterised by a certain set of features (individual characteristics) that characterise the speech (style of expression) of the person in question. On the basis of the patterns of use of various linguistic elements (spelling, punctuation, lexis, inflectional, syntactic, phraseological features, etc.), the features of the author’s idiolect are determined. In addition to determining the features of the idiolect, the frequency of certain units occurring in the text is also examined (stylometric research).

The principle of the “uniqueness of encoding” is based on a set of factors, which in their unique combination buildup a person’s language. These factors are: age, gender, health, social status, education level, profession, geographical origin, territorial affiliation, life experience. This whole set of factors builds the idiolect of a person, which is analysed from the point of view of: linguistic errors, grammatical forms, punctuation and spelling, the use of parenthesis, emphasising elements in context, the use of rhetorical questions, conventionalized phrases, substitutes for non-verbal components in context and in which places they appear, the use of apostrophe inverted commas, the use of repetitions, the appearance of synonyms in texts (which ones?).