A questioned document expert examines two elements viz, class and individual characteristics of handwriting to come to a conclusion regarding the authorship of handwriting. Lets learn in detail what these characteristics are all about.
Class Characteristics are those writing features common to a group i.e. the common pattern of handwriting, letters, their shape which are limited to a group, age or language. In simple words , it is nothing but copy book format i.e a model which is taught to us when we learn the writing process which is almost similar to a class of people (kids in school of a particular region. )
Individual characteristics, on the other hand, occur when a letter departs from its usual copybook form. These elements of writing constitute the basis of all handwriting identifications. Those particular aspects or features of writing that are peculiar to a specific writer
Class Characteristics of Handwriting
- Movement – Motion of writing instrument with the action of hand on the writing surface.
Writer may use Finger, wrist, elbow or shoulder movement and their combinations.
- Finger movement – Hold pen with thumb, index finger, middle finger or sometimes ring finger and the motion comes from these fingers. The hands rests in air and inferior quality of writing is produced.
Features of Finger Movement Writing
The writer constantly readjusts his or her hand when writing across the page. This constant adjustment can be seen in abrupt turns and breaks in the letters. – Irregular Connections
It is primarily used by unskilled writers/ illiterates/ toddlers and indicates unfamiliarity with the writing process. The writing will show frequent stops and pauses.
Lack of clear cut strokes
Lack of Rhythm
- Wrist Movement – Motion comes from the wrist as it rests on the writing surface.
Features of Wrist Movement Writing
Angular and Less space between the letters.
More degree of freedom
- Forearm Movement – Arm of the writer rests on the writing surface and the action comes from the elbow
Features of Forearm / Elbow Movement Writing
Gives more command and lateral freedom
Clear cut strokes
- Shoulder Movement / Full arm Movement
Motion comes from shoulder. Mostly detached way of writing . Whole arm writing is used to write on large surfaces like blackboards.
2. Pen Pressure – weight or pressure unconsciously applied to the writing instrument during the act of writing. Writing produced with a nib pen will clearly show the effect of applying different amount of pressure to the writing instrument as it passes along the paper. The more pressure applied by the fingers and hand, the greater the tips of the nib will separate.
Writers can be categorized to have light, medium, or heavy pen pressure.
3.Pen Presentation – It is the angle of the pen with the writing surface or with the line of writing. The best writing is produced when the angle is 45 degrees.
This angle can be measured by drawing tangent to the stroke and measuring its angle with the base line.
4. 5S Characteristics
Speed – The amount of time it takes a writer to execute a handwriting . Speed can be fast, medium , slow and deliberate.
Characteristics of Fast Writing
- Simplified Letter forms
- Smooth Strokes
- Proper Connections
- I dots are jabbed and carelessly placed
- T crossings are tapered or may be joined with the other word.
- Endings are abrupt and
Characteristics of Slow Writing
- T bars are carefully placed
- I dots are rounded and close to the stem.
- Vertical Slant
- Pressure is often monotonous.
- Skill – Skill is the ability/ expertise to do something. The act of writing is a skill learned through repetition until it becomes a habit. . The more an individual practices writing, the better the skill. Skill in handwriting can be categorized as, Poor, Medium/ Normal and Superior/ Good.
High Skill – Rhythmic, fluid, artistic, embellished and pleasing to eyes
Low Skill- Laborious , Slow, not rhythmic
- Speed – The number of words one can write in a minute.
Speed is directly proportional to Skill which is proportional to movement.
- Higher the movement , higher the speed, higher the skill
- Slant/ Slope – Slope is the inclination of the axes of letters relative to the perpendicular to the baseline of the writing. Slant can be
- Vertical / Straight.
- Right/ Forward
- Shading – Shading is theconscious or voluntary act of applying pressure to the pen while completing certain strokes. When a nib pen is used, pen strokes executed with heavy pressure will be wider than strokes written with less pressure. It is mostly seen in downward strokes.
- Spacing – Spacing refers to the amount of space between letters, words and lines of writing. The rules of writing dictates one to two letter space between words. Sufficient space must be left between lines to prevent intermingling of upper and lower loops.
Spacing is categorized into two –
- Inter word (between) and
- intra word (Within)
There are several aspects of spacing within writing that become habitual with the individual and of value in the identification process. These include the wide, narrow, mixed, or uniform spacing between letters, words, and between lines on un ruled sheets sometimes referred to as interlinear spacing.
Habits of some significance also develop in the spacing between capital letters and lowercase or small letters in the same words.
5.Alignment – The baseline is the imaginary line or actual lines on which writing sits. Some writers stay above the baseline, some stay on the line and some goes below it.
6. Relative Size – It is the Evaluation of size of letters(small and tall ). The size of handwriting may vary according to the circumstances in which it is written. Relative size encompasses both the height and width of a letter. Size difference of tall and short letters, short and short letters, tall and tall letters are taken into consideration.
Some authors have a different opinion on Relative size. Harrison says relative size is the judgment of one letter against itself in other locations, or against the apparent standard size for other letters within the writing. That is, the size of letters changes with their occurrence is also an important feature to be noted while examining handwriting.
7. Ratio – The letters may be divided into two groups- Those which are written entirely between the lines such as o, a, e etc are called short letters while the others , such as those with upper or lower loops or both i.e. that spans above or below the middle zone of writing are called tall letters.
Middle zone letters include a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, and x. Upper and lower Zone letters include b, d, g, h, k, p, q, y, and z. The letter f is the only letter to fully extend into all three zones in cursive writing.
The relation between the height of tall and short letters is an important characteristics of handwriting as it tends to remain unchanged.
A handwriting where the ratio approximates to the prescribed copybook will be termed as normal. If the tall letters are many times longer than the small letters then the ratio is said to be high, whereas if the difference in height between long and short letters is less, the ratio is said to be low.
8. Line Quality – Line Quality is defines as the smoothness, evenness, continuity , directness of strokes. Line Quality is the most important features in handwriting examination. Good line quality is smooth , even, without tremors and written with speed.
Poor Line Quality is the result of slow writing which may indicate forgery or deliberate change in writing. When forging, a person tries to draws the signature instead of writing. The art of drawing is slow and laborious process, resulting in tremulous strokes
On the basis of general writing characteristics, we cannot give definite opinion about the identity of the writer, for that we look for individual characteristics of handwriting.
Individual Characteristics of Handwriting
Individual characteristics are deviations from the system of writing taught and consequently are strong identifying characteristics when comparing handwriting samples.
Individual characteristics can be categorized as
- Consciously acquired habits
- Subconscious acquisitions.
- Consciously acquired habits are those the writer cultivates in his or her writing. Consciously developed habits are easier to modify, although a writer may forget to do so when attempting to disguise his or her handwriting.
The most obvious consciously developed deviations are unusual letter designs, slant, speed of writing, and skill level achieved by the writer. Writers will practice penmanship until satisfied with their development. Writers often make adjustments without thinking about them. Utilization of space is such an example.
A writer must adjust his or her writing to fit into an available space. He or she may not think about this while doing it, although the writer is aware of adjusting the size of the writing.
- The subconscious habits creep into handwriting without conscious awareness. Because the writer is not aware of these subconscious characteristics, they cannot be changed or deleted from his or her handwriting. Subconscious developments are more subtle. Most writers are not aware that these elements exist in their writing.
Hooks and ticks may creep into their letter forms. Pressure patterns develop without awareness. The more subconscious the habit, the stronger the identifying factor because of the writer’s difficulty in changing these subconscious characteristics.
How Handwriting becomes individualistic in nature ?
- Form – Form is not limited to the shape of the letters but includes the method of constructing and connecting the letters, including the initial and terminal strokes.
- Letter Designs – The writing strokes consist of lines and curves in various directions, forming individual letter shapes. Lines can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. Curves are loops, circles, or parts of circles. Letter designs are the most easily identifiable feature of handwriting. Forgers copy letter designs while disregarding other characteristics of the writing.
Each letter has a distinguishing element that makes it unique. Many writers use more than one design for an individual letter. It is not unusual to see two or three different letter designs in one’s handwriting as well as slight variations in the form of each letter.
Natural variation is present in every writer’s handwriting. Everyone has a mental image of learned letter designs.
A writer may experiment with variations of letter designs until finding one that is desirable or may simply make a design that represents the letter form being created.
- Method of Construction – Forgers will imitate letter forms, but they fail to follow the same method of construction of letters and words when they do so. Writers develop consistent habits regarding the construction of letter forms. They start their letters in approximately the same place whether on the baseline, above or below it. They move the writing instrument in the same direction and join strokes at a similar location each time. They terminate their letters in a similar manner. A document examiner should carefully follow the direction of the writing line to determine the method of construction.
A) Initial Strokes – Initial strokes are found at the beginning of letters and words. They may be straight, curved or hooked, long or short.
B) Terminal Strokes – Terminal strokes are ending strokes on letters and words. They also may be straight, curved, or hooked, long or short and are consistent with writers. These are also overlooked by forgers unless the terminal stroke is very distinctive.
C) Medial Strokes – Medial strokes are found between the initial and terminal strokes. They include the letter forms and the strokes used to connect the letters in a word in cursive writing.
- Connecting Strokes- Connecting strokes join the letters in words. They are also called ligatures. Letters in a word may be connected or disconnected. Connectors can consist of arches, garlands, angles, or thread connections.
- Embellishments – extra strokes added to letters to improve their appearance. These flourishes are curved and wavy lines added to the beginning or ending of letters. Hooks are little strokes made with an immediate change of direction, executed subconsciously by a writer. Hooks may be found at the beginning or ending of words, although some will appear in the middle.
- Grammar – Spelling and punctuation are important elements in handwriting identification, along with the rules of grammar. Spelling and punctuation cannot be used exclusively to identify handwriting, but they can aid in identification.
Range of Writing
All characteristics that make up an individual’s handwriting represent the range of the writer. This includes class characteristics as well as individual characteristics. All deviations from the method taught and all idiosyncrasies of the writer are part of the range of writing. This is the master pattern of the writer.