Some document examiners prefer to be called ‘forensic’ document examiners while other prefer the term ‘questioned’ document examiner. Is there any difference?

The simple answer is ‘no’; there is no real difference. Historically, the term used was “questioned document examiner” but in the last 15-20 years, “forensic” has become a much more common adjective applied to almost any (scientific) endeavour intended for court purposes. Just to add another variation to the discussion, when I began working in this field in the mid-1980’s my colleagues were called “examiners of questioned documents”.


A further complication arises because there are people trained exclusively in a select sub-category of the general field of document examination meaning there is the issue of specific expertise to consider. Some individuals who are trained exclusively in forensic handwriting examinations might more accurately be called a “forensic handwriting expert” or something similar. Similarly, there are people who have specialized in paper, ink chemistry, and so on. The appropriate title for any such person will likely vary depending upon their agency’s position title (or the person’s preferences). But, in general, it would be misleading to refer to a specialist of this sort as a “forensic document examiner” without a bit of clarification.

Finally, it is very important to understand the fact that anyone can call themselves a “forensic document examiner” and present themselves to the public as being qualified to do the work. There are no constraints or controls in this regard (in North American justice systems, at any rate) so it is very much ‘caveat emptor’ when you engage the services of anyone professing to be a qualified and competent examiner. As a minimum I recommend that you obtain the services of a properly certified examiner.

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