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 fo
ms 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

thoroughly studied.

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.