Graphology - The Art of Handwriting Analysis

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Graphology is the study of handwriting. Little is known about its origins but it was certainly in use by the 1600s, with the first major publication on the subject appearing in 1622. Early centres for the study of graphology were in France and Germany, with the technique becoming more widespread in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

What do graphologists do?

The work of graphologists can be classified into two distinct categories.

Forensic handwriting analysis

Graphologists analyse different samples of writing to determine if they were written by the same person. This can be of use in detecting fraudulent documents. For example, a graphologist may be able to determine if a signature is forged or real. Forensic handwriting analysis evidence has been admitted in courts all over the world.

Personality Determination / Creation of character profiles

Some graphologists believe that aspects of a person's character are revealed by their handwriting. Many different aspects of a handwriting sample are examined to extract different information. This includes analysis of slant, size, overall form and shape of letters etc. Signatures and uses of the personal pronoun ' I ' are also examined.

Where possible graphologists will analyse a number of different samples in order to gain a deeper insight. These may include samples written on both lined and unlined paper, as well as samples of styles that the writer may consider different e.g. handwriting used in personal letters as opposed to handwritten notes to oneself.

From this information, the graphologist constructs a 'character portrait'. This includes among other things, the person's general happiness and wellbeing, life priorities, view of themselves and view of others. Signs of stress and illness can also be seen in handwriting.

Some graphologists practice a technique known as graphotherapy. This technique helps people to alter aspects of their personality by changing their handwriting.

Interested readers might consult websites such as, which contains details of full analyses.

Learning the art

Graphologists are mostly self-taught or taught by long distance courses. These courses are offered by various bodies with varying levels of usually self-accreditation e.g. Institute of Integral Handwriting Studies in the US and The British Institute of Graphologists in the UK.

A qualification in forensic handwriting analysis, which is recognised by the US police, is available from the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners1.

Credibility of the technique

Forensic handwriting analysis

Forensic handwriting analysis has taken many reputation hits since the early nineties. In 1993, the American Supreme Court handed down guidelines for the usage of ‘expert testimony’.

Believe it or not, this was the first such attempt to put guidelines like this in place. The guidelines asked judges to consider aspects of the various techniques such as

  • If the reliability of the technique could and had been tested
  • The errors involved in the technique
  • If there were recognised methods of applying the technique

Following the introduction of these guidelines, many judges began to question the ‘expert testimony’ that they had hitherto accepted in the courtroom. The reliability of many techniques was brought into question including, in one case, fingerprinting.

The validity of forensic handwriting analysis was challenged a number of times, with one court ruling handwriting analysis evidence as inadmissible, after noting that ‘the technique of comparing known writings with questioned documents appears to be entirely subjective and entirely lacking in controlling standards’. (United States vs. Salee, 2001)2.

In its defence, a study by Dr. Sargur Srihari, a professor of computer science at the State University of New York, found evidence that the writer of a sample could be detected by analysis in 96% of cases. In his study, he fed 1500 samples to a computer which had been programmed to measure characteristics like letter size and slant. He has also worked on creating a machine that can sort mail automatically, by 'reading' handwritten envelopes3.

The National Institute of Justice, the research and development agency of the US Department of Justice, are currently undertaking 'further research in the quantitative assessment of the discriminatory power of handwriting and validating/improving handwriting ID procedures'4.

Personality Determination / Creation of character profiles

Psychologists frequently frown on graphology as a technique with about as much credibility as astrology or palmistry. However, other psychologists do employ the technique.

Many companies use graphology to help in recruitment of suitable employees. The practice is particularly common in the USA, where it is claimed that graphology has become more popular due to legislation restricting the use of polygraphs (lie detector tests) for recruitment purposes5.

Perhaps the only opinion that matters is the general public's and with Google returning 165,000 hits for ‘graphology’, it seems that the art is still alive and kicking …. or writing!

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