FAQ

How can I find a forensic document examiner to conduct an examination for me?

Click this link for a list of some private examiners.

What does a Forensic Document Examiner do?

A Forensic Document Examiner examines documents to determine authenticity and/or to discover who wrote them. The examiner may subsequently be called to present expert testimony in court to demonstrate the basis and reasons for his/her opinion. The most common examination is the comparison of handwriting and/or signatures, but other examinations include examination of typewritten or machine-generated documents; detection of alterations; decipherment of obliterated and indented writing; examination of watermarks, rubber stamps, and other impressions; and ink differentiation. Many Forensic Document Examiners work in federal, state or local crime laboratories. A number of others are in private practice and mainly work on civil cases.

Does a Forensic Document Examiner determine personality or character traits from handwriting?

No, the practice of trying to determine personality or character traits from handwriting is referred to as graphology, graphoanalysis®, or simply handwriting analysis. This practice is not part of forensic document examination.

How can I become a Forensic Document Examiner? The amount of training generally considered acceptable in this field is 2-4 years, full-time. This is normally accomplished by apprenticeship in a law enforcement crime laboratory or under the direct supervision of a qualified private document examiner. There are no college programs that will train you to become a Forensic Document Examiner. SWAFDE does not recognize self-instruction, online or correspondence courses as fulfillment of the basic training requirements. SWADFE affirms the current version of ASTM standard E2388 as containing the basic requirements for Forensic Document Examiner training.

What is the definition of a document?

A document may be broadly defined as anything that bears marks, signs, or symbols which have meaning or convey a message.

Is it always possible to identify a person’s handwriting?

No, there are several factors that may prevent identification. For example, the questioned or known writing may be too limited, or the questioned writing may be disguised to such a degree as to prevent identification.

I have a hand-printed memo. Can this be compared with a person’s signature to determine if that person wrote the note?

The general rule is that hand-printing can only be compared with hand-printing, and handwriting must be compared with handwriting. Also, there must be similar text in both documents to be compared. For example, “Jack” cannot be compared with “Bob” because there are no common letters.

I have a Last Will and Testament that was supposed to have been signed by my mother. Can the signature be compared with this one check she signed?

A conclusive opinion cannot be given in a one-on-one comparison. A sufficient sample of known signatures is needed for comparison in order to account for normal variation in a person’s signature.

What is variation in handwriting?

Because the human body is not a machine, every person has variation in his writing. No two signatures written by the same person are exactly the same. External factors such as age, illness, intoxication, writing position, writing instrument, and care of execution could affect a person’s writing.

By examining a document can you determine whether the writer is left- or right-handed? How about male or female?

In most cases it cannot be determined conclusively whether a person is right or left-handed. There is no way to determine whether a writer is male or female.

My writing looks the same now as it did 30 years ago. How is that possible?

With some people, their writing will look the same over decades. With others, handwriting can improve or deteriorate depending upon such factors as how often they are required to write, their health, or how much they practice their penmanship.

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