Handwriting Systems

Handwriting systems are a collection of letter formations, historically created by a teacher or penman, that generally contain some common features within similar letter formations. It is a prescribed pattern for emulation as a handwriting style and is taught as part of the educational process. It may be published with accompanying methods of instruction.

Our retention of some of the copybook forms of a handwriting system will continue to a greater or lesser extent throughout our lifetime. On some rare occasions a document examiner may be able to closely approximate the writer’s geographic location of his, or her, primary education by comparing that individual’s writing with little used and localized handwriting systems.

Throughout the history of the United States literally dozens of different handwriting systems have been introduced and taught to school children. Systems with names like Spencerian Roundhand, Palmer or Zaner-Bloser may be familiar, these being some of the more common handwriting systems taught in the United States over the years.  Spencerian was developed in the mid-nineteenth century and consisted of circular motions (not unlike the calligraphy of today) that were necessary to keep the sharp edged steel-nibbed pens of that era from tearing the writing paper.  Palmer was developed about 1888 and although still in use, it is in decline and is being displaced by Zaner-Bloser (1895) or forms of Zaner-Bloser. In 1942, seventy-five percent of the public schools in the United States were instructing Palmer Handwriting. As of about 1985, this same percentage of schools were being taught the Zaner-Bloser System or systems derived from Zaner-Bloser.

Many of these handwriting systems vary only slightly from one to another and all maintain some basic similarities that everyone can recognize.  Our ability to read someone else’s writing even though they were taught a different writing system is contingent upon very similar letter formations between the different systems.  If the different systems were so divergent that the letters were totally dissimilar, we would be unable to communicate using the written word.  For this reason the Forensic Document Examiner does not have to know all of the different handwriting systems to recognize an individual characteristic as opposed to a class or system characteristic.  It is in his best interests, however, to be familiar with several of the more common systems.

Rev 3/16 (NR 06/19)