Author: Frits Cohen, Forensic Handwriting Analyst
The area of graphology has tended not to be included in our journal. This is mainly because as a group predominantly made up of educationalists and therapists we tend to be more focused on young people’s handwriting and how we can support and improve this, rather than possible interpretations of what their handwriting could reveal about their personality.
Put simply, Frits Cohen’s work as a freelance Forensic Handwriting Analyst involves examining samples of handwriting in order to provide information for his clients who include the police, lawyers and banks. A lot of his work involves criminal investigation of fraud. For example Frits was recently asked to give evidence in a case where a carer was accused of extorting money from an elderly lady. Using methods involving in-depth handwriting analysis he was able to support the defendant in his claim that he had signed cheques with his employer’s permission.
In this short piece Frits explains some aspects of modern graphology in order to give some background to his work.
Modern graphology features in a multitude of disciplines and is as far removed from the era of the quill pen in terms of communication as the aeroplane is from the horse and cart in modern transportation. The word graphology is derived from the Greek graphein, meaning to write, and logos, meaning to study or reason. Baxter (1972) reasoned that if taken in its broadest sense, the term graphology ‘correctly describes the activities of many who would vehemently deny that they are graphologists, but as such they may be correctly described’.
There are three main branches of modern graphology and in reality practitioners tend to fit into one particular branch with there being little cross over in each field. The three aspects of modern graphology are described in more detail below.
This usually involves the interpretation of handwriting by a skilled script analyst with psychological know-how and experience. This is commonly what is understood by graphology in the eyes of the general public, the popular perception being that of a portrait in writing with in-depth consideration of character and personality. However this branch of graphology when used in a professional capacity can be an empirical diagnostic appraisal used for career guidance and occupational purposes. It can also be used in behavioural profiling, risk assessment, counselling and consultancy. In this context analysis is based on theories to explain the cause of writing behaviour, trajectory and use of space. Frits has produced a book, Handwriting Analysis at Work that explains this process in more detail and this is available free of charge to HIG members (read on to find out more!). Interpretations are attached to the way handwriting is done. In my opinion scientifically this is the most intriguing, demanding and neglected area. There is a big difference between professional analysts with great ability and those who lack the basic ingredients of scientific methodology, experience and perception. Personality is a complicated subject, which is difficult to define and further research is needed in both graphology and psychology in order to refine this field. However experienced practitioners can be extremely accurate with clients, sometimes reporting diagnostic success rates of over 80%.
This commonly involves handwriting comparison, examination and identification in a legal context, usually involving the analysis of disputed documentation and signature examination by an expert who groups similarities and dissimilarities. Writing construction, proportion and shape are important elements of the analysis. This and wider aspects of authentication, fraud and disguise are uncovered and researched with verifiable methods and modern scientific equipment. However, analysis in this area is not an exact science. Conclusions are based on facts, weighed for significance by the expert and leading to his or her opinion. In civil cases an expert’s duty is to provide written reports, and giving evidence is to help the courts. This duty overrides any obligation to the party who has engaged him or her. Two expert witnesses may well arrive at different opinions, leaving room for lawyers to argue and judges and juries to form their own conclusions.
Research, development and education – from brain to script
This branch of graphology deals with what happens in our brain and on the way to the finished ink-trail, namely our writing. This area includes experimentation and computer-aided research in the recognition, comparison, identification and development of all expression leaving visible traces for communication – be it handwriting, drawing, or any other graphic skill. Recording can be via the pen or any other associated means of implementation involving the manual use of writing and drawing implements. At the educational level handwriting research also embraces the early discovery of symptoms likely to cause problems, such as the common association of reversals of numbers or letters with dyslexic type problems. It establishes rules for observation and subsequent medical, therapeutic, or psychological treatment by qualified specialists.
Frits Cohen has devised his own tool which uses computerisation as part of the analysis of handwriting samples. The Segmentation of Handwriting and Signatures Tool can be used in the three areas of modern graphology described above. As a forensic analyst he looks for similarities and dissimilarities in handwriting in order to establish who wrote that anonymous letter or whether or not the signature on a cheque, contract or will is a forgery. In terms of relevance specifically relating to an educational context such in-depth methods of analysis can be used in a questionable scenario where a failing or average student suddenly produces a ‘grade A’ assignment (where work is handwritten). It can also highlight specific problems that individual pupils may have or highlight progress over time.
Segmentation in forensic terms involves the process of script examination. A common procedure used in the United Kingdom and all around the world involves letter by letter analysis. This supposedly gives the analyst an understanding of the writer’s letter shape formation. In practice however it only does that to a limited extent as the shape of the letter often varies depending on where it is placed within a word as well as what precedes or follows it. Moreover people do not usually think in separate letters.
For the purposes of the ‘Segmentation’ of Handwriting and Signatures, segments are writing elements considered in isolation, such as whole words, or parts of words separated by pen lifts. The following example shows the same sentence copied by two different people. The handwriting samples are scanned and segmented using computer software. The segments between pen lifts are then numbered and indicated by slashes. This is followed by the transfer of each segment to the alphabetical (first letter) home, the segmentation table. A teacher would automatically notice misshaped letterforms which need attention, or “wrong-way-round” letter combinations typical of dyslexia or laterally inverted b’s or d’s as well as other characteristics of pupils’ writing.
Picture 1: Showing comparison of segmentation of the phrase – ‘Experience is the result of comparison and the mother of wisdom.’