How To Examine A Writing
The examination of a writing generally consists in making a careful
comparison between it and another or others, the object being to
determine whether all are by the same hand.
The writing which is in a known hand or as to the authorship of which
there is no doubt, is usually called the Original, and is always
referred to by this name. The writing which has to be compared with it,
and which practically forms the subject of the enquiry, is called the
Suspect. The Suspects should be marked A, B, C, D, &c., and put away
without examination until the Original has been thoroughly mastered.
This is more important than may appear at first sight, for the confusing
effect of having the two types of writing in the eye and mind before one
type is made familiar is highly prejudicial. Any inclination to look at
the Suspects first should be firmly resisted.
Let us assume that the object of the examination is to discover the
writer of an anonymous letter--one of the most frequent tasks of the
handwriting expert. The material in hand is the anonymous letter, which
in such a case may be called the Original, and half-a-dozen specimens of
the writing of suspected persons. These Suspects are numbered from 1 to
6, or marked A, B, C, &c., and put aside until the Original has been
The first thing is to examine the paper and envelope, noting its
quality, watermark, size, and any feature that may afford a clue. It is
always safe to presume that the paper is in every respect unlike that
commonly used by the writer, just as it is equally safe to take it for
granted that the writing it contains will, so far as its general
appearance goes, be the reverse of the normal hand of the author. That
is, if it be a heavy back hand, the writer probably uses a hand
approximating to the Italian, though too much weight must not be
attached to this theory.
Next, note the general style of the document as a whole, whether the
margin between top, bottom, and sides is large or small. A writer who
habitually begins at the top left-hand corner very near to the edge of
the paper will often betray himself by repeating the habit. It is a very
common sign of an economical disposition. Note whether he crowds his
words and letters near the ends of lines or leaves a good margin. Clerks
and those engaged in official work rarely crowd their final words,
preferring rather to leave a wide space and go on to the next line.
Note whether the hyphen is used to divide words. Many writers never
divide a word, others do it frequently, with or without the hyphen.
Measure the average distance between lines, if unruled paper be used,
and make a note of the average distance.
Measure the distance between words and strike an average, noting if
words are connected without lifting the pen. It may be found that this
joining is only done when certain letters form the final of the first
word joined and the initial of the word connected. Look carefully for
Note particularly the slope of the topped and tailed letters.
Note the punctuation, whether frequent and accurate or otherwise.
Determine the class to which the writing belongs.
Read the document carefully, noting any peculiarities of language,
errors, or Americanisms in spelling, such as "favor" for "favour,"
"color" for "colour," &c.; the substitution of "_z_" for "_s_" in such
words as "advertise," &c. Examine with the glass any words that may have
been crossed out or rewritten, noting particularly letters that have
been mended or touched up.
Note whether the horizontal lines have a tendency to slope up or down.
Note particularly letters with two or more feet, like _a_, _d_, _h_,
_k_, _m_, _n_, &c. It will be found that a certain regularity in
formation exists in most writings. If the _a_ be formed like an _o_,
the toe not touching the line, or an _n_ with the second foot high up
like a bearded _r_, these peculiarities should be carefully noted. Some
writers go to the other extreme, and carry the second foot below the
line, so that _a_ becomes a small _q_. Too much time cannot be devoted
to this aspect of handwriting, as it presents features of which the
writer is probably quite unconscious, and, therefore, affords valuable
Next study the topped and tailed letters, noting whether they are looped
or barred, that is, formed by a single stroke. It will be often found
that certain letters are always looped, others barred. Take careful note
of such. If both barred and looped letters appear to be used
indiscriminately, count and average them. In any case, a characteristic
will be revealed. Examine and classify the loops. Note whether they are
long or short, rounded or angular, wide or narrow. Devote special
attention to the arc, shoulder and hook. Note, also, any difference of
thickness between the up and down stroke; test the degree of clearness
and sharpness of stroke by means of the glass, and carefully look for
the serrated or ragged edge, which will assist in determining the angle
at which the pen is held.
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