The Learning Process and Class Characteristics - Questioned Documents - Norwitch Document Laboratory
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The Learning Process and Class Characteristics

In order to appreciate the concept of handwriting identification, it is first necessary to have a basic understanding of how handwriting is acquired.

As a formal educational process, a child is taught by using a model of the alphabet. He is asked to reproduce the letters within that model.  This model may be in the form of cards containing the different letters (both upper-case and lower-case) placed around the ceiling of the classroom or they may be found at the top of a pad of paper specifically pre-lined and structured to help in the learning process.

In the contemporaneous school system, children in the first and second grades are taught a printed style of writing, sometimes referred to as Manuscript Writing.  The transition to a connected writing style (cursive handwriting) takes place in the third and fourth grades. During these early formative years, the child does not have a handwriting of his own. There is little if anything that is individual or identifying within what is often clumsy attempts at reproducing copybook forms.  The product of these attempts is not handwriting per se, but a simulation of the letters of the handwriting system being taught. In essence, the young writer is creating an artistic representation, a drawing.  During these two or three formative years, the child will gradually become more adept at remembering what the letters looked like and how they are formed. He no longer has to copy them but is now drawing them from memory. When this occurs, the child will begin introducing variations or deviations from the copybook form.  This is the beginning of his own “handwriting”.

The reasons for individual variations and deviations are countless.  As we look at different people we realize that no two people look alike.  There are different complexions, different sizes, different skeletal structures, different musculatures, voice, mannerisms, and the like.  An analogy can be drawn from this to handwriting.  An individual in the process of creating his own handwriting may introduce embellishments that he or she thinks are pleasing to the eye or may take shortcuts in order to rapidly produce a letter. The mental image and ability to remember the copybook form, along with the ability to reproduce that form, will account for other departures.  The writer may even see something appealing in a friend’s writing that he will try to incorporate into his writing.  The hand/eye coordination of each child may be quite different.  The manner of holding the writing instrument may vary and the writer’s posture may be different.  His perception of the letter’s formation may be quite different from another’s.

The above are just a few of the many dynamic considerations that come into play to produce individual handwriting.  When these individual characteristics become habitual and repetitious, the handwriting has matured and it will be that writer’s own.  When the writer produces writing as a sub-conscience act without giving conscience thought to the movement of the pen, but rather to what words to use, he has reached writing maturity. This writing will be different than the handwriting of any other individual in the world.  It is only here, at this point, that we can draw the analogy to the fingerprint.  There are no two fingerprints that are exactly alike. There are no two handwritings that are exactly alike.

The original hand printing or Manuscript Writing learned in the primary school grades will remain with most people throughout their lives.  It may even be their preferred method of written communication.  It will be used in most instances where legibility is needed or required.  Most, if not all of the identification concepts associated with cursive handwriting apply to hand printing as well.  The Questioned Document Examiner still, on occasion, runs into an investigator who is under the erroneous impression that hand printing cannot be identified.  This belief has as its basis a popular early concept that printing could be an effective method of disguising one’s writing.

On the occasion when the writings of two different people appear similar, it can usually be attributed to a limited quantity or quality of writing.  If the writings are extensive enough and developed sufficiently past the copy book form, distinctive differences between the two writings will be discernable.

Rev 3/16