Before you examine a piece of handwriting, what should you know? Ideally, you should be aware of the subject’s age, gender, nationality, and educational background, as well as the circumstances in which the document was written (sometimes, of course, uncertain subjects might ask you to suggest the form that the sample should take). There will inevitably be times when you have no information about the writer and no control over the form and content of the document you’re analyzing – anonymous letters, ransom notes, or historical documents all present you with a fait accompli, and their author is (usually) unavailable and unlikely to present you with a sample of his handwriting in a more acceptable form!
Why would you want to know the writer’s age and gender ahead of time? This is because neither the writer’s age nor gender can be determined accurately from a script analysis; mental maturity does not always correspond to physical age. When it comes to stroke quality, the age of the subject is crucial. For example, depending on the writer’s age or youth, the faltering control shown in that writing sample could have very different interpretations.
Knowing the gender of the writer can help you write a more fluid and appealing report – there’s nothing more ponderous or inelegant than referring to your subject as he/she or he or she or the writer, and it’s unlikely to inspire confidence in your findings. Also, if you’re asked to suggest a possible occupation for the subject, telling a physically active woman that she should consider a career as a lumberjack or an all-in wrestler won’t get you very far.
Why should you care about the writer’s nationality or educational background?
According to Saudek, the ways in which writers deviate from the copy-book styles learned in school reveal the most telling truths about their characters. The writing style taught varies from country to country (and even from district to district), and we can’t tell how a writer deviates from the style he was taught unless we know where he came from. The point that people who are not writing in their native language may form their letters more slowly, fluently, and with more inhibitions than specimens written in their native tongue is more easily understood, and you should emphasize this in your overall summary.
Klages distinguished three stages in the evolution of a writer’s script:
- the learning stage in which the young writer is attempting to learn and coordinate the skills necessary to create fluent writing – he dubbed this period’s script Unorganized Writing (Pulver described the same process as Mastering the problems of form and space, and Direct Analysts refer to this as the stage of GRAPHIC IMMATURITY);
- Organised Writing, which is the more fluent script of accomplished writers (Direct Analysts refer to this as the GRAPHIC MATURITY stage);
- Disorganized Writing is a script that has degenerated into a less fluent or mature style (due to old age, mental or physical illness, or substance abuse) (Direct Analysts refer to this as the stage of GRAPHIC DEGENERATION).
Of course, if you have access to samples of the subject’s script over time, you can track the progression of graphic degeneration – but sometimes you only have a single piece of handwriting to go on, and that’s when knowing the writer’s educational background comes in handy for interpreting any lack of fluency or maturity as either UNorganized or DISorganized.
For example, if you had two pieces of handwriting which both lacked fluency and were equally full of badly formed letters and which revealed similarly ineffective uses of form and space – one written by a young man without any real education and the other written by a middle-aged university graduate – which of these samples would cause you more concern?
It is not suggested to examine the following document types for analysis:
Poetry – The length of lines, the proportions of the script, and the form and frequency of punctuation are all dictated by verse. It creates an artificial and contrived use of form and space (LAYOUT), and if replicated, it affects writing fluidity and speed.
Copied text – Text reproduced from a book or newspaper is sure to have inconsistencies in flow and attention (after all, the writer has to look away from the page every so often to read more from the book). Also, with such non-personal information, there is a general lack of emotional commitment.
Lined paper — If the writer is slavishly following a fixed line, how can you learn anything from his line-directions?
Narrow slips of paper – Any writing surface that is so small or restricted that it forces the writer to adopt a constricted writing style – producing smaller letter formations and/or a style of layout that conforms to the size of the paper – can produce a misleading image and is thus unsuitable for our purpose.
Documents written specifically for analysis – This consideration is less evident than the other less-than-ideal document types. It’s usually preferable to collect a sample of handwriting that hasn’t been created particularly for examination, because even the most self-assured person may find it difficult to avoid discreetly modifying his script if he knows it’ll be scrutinized by an expert. According to research, it’s not really possible to write fluently in an assumed style, and the capacity to change handwriting is quickly eroded if the individual is merely compelled to keep writing for an extended period of time. Even when the subject has a compelling motivation to conceal his script (for example, when the police have insisted on Poison Pen authors repeatedly repeating the text of their own letters), the natural rhythms and inclinations of the subject’s usual writing will eventually express themselves.
If you have to study a document that was specifically written for analysis, you should consider this factor and skip the early portion of the text (preferably, you should start your examination where the writer’s natural script appears). The drawback of this strategy is that some texts are too brief to allow the subject’s natural style to shine through. As a result, many analysts strive to stay away from material that has been specially written.