There are lots of ways to gain additional insight about someone; you can analyze their body language, for instance, or learn about how facial micro-expressions can thwart a liar. But did you know that by studying the various handwriting styles that people use, you can learn a little about their disposition, stress level, and even their blood pressure? You can indeed, and the study of handwriting styles is known as graphology, or handwriting analysis. There are other reasons to analyze a person’s handwriting. Every person’s penmanship is entirely unique, and even identical twins have different handwriting styles.
Forensic handwriting analysis is different from graphology, and is used to compare samples to validate authenticity or match two samples to the same individual either in police investigations or for a historical purpose. We will discuss the basics of what makes up an individual’s handwriting style, how that can be used in forensic analysis, and how it can be used in graphology.
Handwriting Styles 101
As we discussed, a person’s handwriting style is unique to them. It is extremely difficult for a person to alter their handwriting styles, because there are multiple “quirks” that will give the writer’s identity away. Of course, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been successful forgeries, but that kind of alteration takes a lot of time and skill. Let’s take a look at some basic definitions and language that we use when exploring handwriting styles:
- Penmanship refers to a distinct script or style of writing called “hand”. The more broad definition of penmanship of course encompasses any written word, but as handwriting evolved, so too did the various hands or scripts that we used to write. For instance, you may be familiar with a font called Carolingian. This font resembles the script primarily used after the Emperor Charlemagne decreed that all handwritten words should use a universal template. Hands or scripts can vary, depending on whether they use the Roman alphabet, an eastern set of characters (like kanji or katakana), a cyrillic alphabet, etc. As you delve more into each hand, you’ll find that there are distinct markers that each uses, such as the employment of serifs or uncials.
- We are all pretty familiar with cursive-it is the bane of many a school child’s existence, after all. Cursive is writing where all of the letters of one word are joined, and despite what some may think, was actually developed to make writing faster! We also refer to it as manuscript, script, or joined up writing, and we see it in other languages besides just English. Languages written in the Devanagari script, for instance, Hindi, are written with a joining line at the top, and in Arabic languages, where words can be almost illegible (though beautiful!) in the places where words intertwine. It isn’t the easiest thing to master, of course, and if you have a student or child that’s struggling, a supplementary handwriting course can help vanquish the cursive dragon!
- Block Letters
- On the other hand, block letters are printed separately as opposed to joined. True block letters are considered to be in all capitals, without serifs, but we have come to refer to most styles of non-cursive or “printed” handwriting this way.
- Case simply refers to whether or not a single letter is printed in its capital or lower-case form.
- A signature is the cursive version of a person’s name, also called an autograph. Usually the signature is considered to be the most distinct part of any person’s handwriting style and can differ from the rest of an individual’s penmanship.
- A grapheme is a single, standalone letter.
- An allograph is an examination of two forms of the same grapheme. It can refer to a letter’s upper or lower case, whether the letter is written in script or printed, and whether the letter is italicized or not, among other things.
- Most letters are made of multiple strokes. An “A” for instance, is typically written with three strokes, but some people may only use two, or just one if they never lift their writing instrument off of the page.
- Slope refers to the directional quality of a grapheme or set of graphemes-a word. Some people write straight up and down, some slope to the left or right, and some folks will slant only the beginning letter. Slope, combined with all of the above characteristics of different handwriting styles will help determine an individual’s unique style.
Forensic Handwriting Analysis
Forensic handwriting analysis differs from graphology, the latter of which is often used to provide insight into a person’s psychology or personality using an understanding of differing handwriting styles.
By contrast, forensic analysis compares a sample of writing against a piece of writing with a known origin or provenance. Since our handwriting changes as we age, the practice can be useful in the study of historical documents, where we might use a later, well-known piece of say, George Washington’s handwriting to determine whether an earlier piece of writing may be attributed to him as well.
Forensic handwriting analysis is sometimes used in police work as well, where the analyst will look for idiosyncrasies within a person’s handwriting style to determine whether or not the writing is authentic and evidentiary.
This particular type of analysis concerns itself with four main categories:
- Form is a thorough study of the element we discussed in the previous section on what handwriting styles are comprised of and include letter shape, slant, spacing, connections, serifs, proportion, retracing, and curves. These are the idiosyncrasies that people develop as they learn, and are largely done without conscious effort, which is why it is difficult to disguise your handwriting once it has been established. Of course, there are ways to learn to improve your own handwriting, and perhaps you’ll get good enough to trick the experts!
- Line Quality
- This refers to the type of instrument used, the pressure a person exerts when writing, and the continuity of the script.
- Things that fall under the umbrella of arrangement include spacing, letter size, and any distinctive punctuation that the writer uses, including the way that they dot their “i”s and cross their “t”s. This can also refer to the individual’s particular style of formatting, such as indentation or underlining.
- This is where graphology and analysis part ways most substantially: content refers to what the writer has written as opposed to how. It examines parts of speech, grammatical or spelling errors, and vocabulary to match handwriting styles to writers.
Graphology, as we explained maintains that by studying the various elements of handwriting styles and applying them to one person’s sample, you can make a number of determinations regarding that person’s mood, personality, psychology, and even, in some cases, health. Let’s take a look at some common graphology conclusions:
- Right-slanting your letters to the right can indicate open mindeness, sociability, and enthusiasm.
- Left-writing with a slant to the left may indicate that you are more reserved and introverted.
- None-employing no slant in your writing indicates that you are not ruled by your emotions and tend to be a logical, rational thinker.
- Large-large letters indicated a tendency towards being outgoing and boisterous.
- Small-by contrast, small letters may indicate that you are shy in social situations and would prefer to “blend in”.
- Open-open loops often point to an open, honest personality. In other words, you may think before you speak, but always in honesty.
- Closed-closed loops might point to a personality that tends to observe and listen before speaking. Closed loopers also play their hand close to their chest.
- Wide-wide spacing is an indication that you need space and freedom. You don’t like to be crowded and you find rigidity and tight schedules restrictive.
- Narrow-narrow spaces in writing can point to a personality type that does not like to be alone, an extrovert who prefers to be surrounded by friends.
- Rounded-rounded letters point to a creative, artistic personality.
- Pointed-pointed letters are a sign of an aggressive, ambitious, intelligent, and curious personality.
- Connected-people who write primarily in cursive or connect their printed words tend to be more logical, realistic, and reserved in their decision making process.
- Heavy-heavy handed writers who dig their writing instrument into the page for a pronounced bold or dark line tend to be decisive and committed. They may be defensive in the face of criticism or exhibit “uptight” personality traits.
- Light-people with handwriting styles that are characterized by light, wispy letters can be very sensitive or self-conscious, and are more empathetic toward their peers.
- Dots and Crosses
- Dotted to left-do you dot your “I”s to the left? If so, this can be a sign of procrastination. Not to worry, there are really simple strategies you can use to overcome putting your work off.
- Dotted to right-if you dot to the right, it’s possible that you tend to get ahead of yourself. It can be a sign of impatience.
- Dashed-people who dash their “I”s instead of dotting them don’t like when others make mistakes and have little patience for intolerance. They are typically their own worst critics as well, and strive for perfection.
- Centered-an “I” that is dotted right in the middle can point to a detail oriented neat freak. If you dot your “I”s in the center you are likely very organized.
- Centered high-dots that are centered but float high on the page are usually a good indication of an active imagination.
- Crossed low-How do you cross your “t”s? A low cross or a cross that is right in the middle of a lower case “t” points to a confident personality.
- Crossed high– a high cross or cross that caps a lower case “t” means that you are ambitious, optimistic, and sure of yourself.
- Crossed short-short crosses can point to a lazy individual, or a person who is constantly rushing.
- Crossed long-long crosses, on the other hand, point to a stubborn individual who is determined and unable to “let go”.
There are many, many other components of graphology, which claims to be able to identify over 5,000 personality attributes simply by addressing the components of various handwriting styles; these are just a few of the most common determinants.
Interested? It’s hard to believe that there are so many different aspects to handwriting styles and how we can analyze them, but as you can see, “the writing is on the wall” (or the page, as the case may be). You can even try your own hand (pun definitely intended) at handwriting analysis! On the other hand, you can explore the many aesthetics of computerized font with a course on typography.