Is my Examiner Qualified?

Of all the questions that can be asked about a Forensic Document Examiner, the issue of whether or not they are qualified is undoubtedly the most important of all. I have written about it before so you may wish to review the following:

Are there any licensing requirements for a Forensic Document Examiner?

No, there are no licensing requirements for Forensic Document Examiners in the majority of jurisdictions in the United States or Canada, or in most other parts of the world.  Some sort of licensing would have tremendous benefit by providing a degree of regulatory oversight. However, like other forensic disciplines, there is nothing at present for Forensic Document Examination work.

Therefore, please do not assume that anyone offering their services is truly qualified and competent. Check credentials carefully. To that end, look closely at any professional certification held by the examiner. Certification speaks to the competencies and capabilities of the examiner. In addition, review the examiner’s curriculum vitae (resume) carefully and always ask questions about anything in it.

Related blog post:  Professional Certification

How can I be sure my examiner is really qualified and competent?

Competency is a huge issue for any forensic service. Ensuring your examiner is actually qualified and competent is not a trivial thing.  And, it’s absolutely critical that you do this!

First and foremost, ask questions.  Challenge every aspect of that’s person’s credentials:  their training, their certification, the equipment they use, the methods they apply to casework, etc.

Their training should conform to the Scientific Working Group for Forensic Document Examination (SWGDOC) Standard for Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examiners.  That is, the examiner’s training:

  • should be “the equivalent of a minimum of 24 months full-time training under the supervision of a principal trainer”.  That means at least two years’ worth (i.e., over 4,000 hrs) of face-to-face instruction with direct oversight by the trainer.
  • should have been given by a principal trainer who:
    • was fully qualified as a forensic document examiner;
    • had successfully completed this type of training program (i.e., equivalent of a minimum of 24 months full-time supervised training);
    • had been trained in the topics of instruction in the SWGDOC standard (see Section 7); and
    • had a minimum of at least five years full-time, post-training experience as a forensic document examiner.
  • should be primarily in-person training; not solely or primarily based on distance learning and/or periodic meetings with the principal trainer.  Short courses and internet-based training options are acceptable only as supplemental training.  Regular, preferably daily, in-person oversight is necessary so that the trainer can fully assess a trainee’s methods and thought processes and ensure the accuracy of their conclusions.

Additionally, the examiner should have an earned baccalaureate degree or equivalent from an accredited college or university.

If your examiner does not recognize and accept the standard for minimum training in forensic document examiners published by SWGDOC, you should be very wary about the nature and quality of their training.

Professional certification is a great credential BUT you must look for someone who has been certified by an independent certifying body that is not affiliated with any specific training entity.  I discuss this topic at length in another blog post, however a good resource in this regard is the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) in the USA.  The FSAB program “…is intended to establish a mechanism whereby the forensic community can assess, recognize and monitor organizations or professional boards that certify individual forensic scientists or other forensic specialists (conformity assessment bodies, CABs).”  In other words, the FSAB accredits the bodies that certify examiners.   

To that end, I personally recommend examiners who have been certified by the ABFDE.  The ABFDE was the first independent professional certifying body for FDE work having been founded in 1977.  It is the only accredited certifying body with Diplomates employed as document examiners in federal, state/provincial, and large municipal crime laboratories in the USA, Canada, and elsewhere.  Many of their Diplomates also offer private, independent FDE services.  Related blog post:  Certification – ABFDE.

The examiner should have a fully-equipped and well-maintained laboratory suited to the services they provide.  The basic equipment for a forensic document examination laboratory consists of:

  • Stereoscopic binocular microscope
    • Specialized lighting for the scope
  • Spectral analysis equipment
  • Electrostatic detection device

One last note: graphology is a field of study that purports to assess personality from handwriting. Graphology is NOT equivalent to forensic document examination and is not accepted in courts within Canada or the USA. I strongly recommend avoiding any examiner with graphology training and background unless they also have the required FDE training as outlined above. Many ‘purported’ examiners come from this domain and lack appropriate FDE training. Please note that many graphologists downplay their training to minimize challenges relating to this issue. 

Why is certification important in forensic document examination?

Certification is important primarily because it gives a client some assurance about the abilities and competencies of the examiner.  That’s very important when choosing a forensic document examiner.

By ‘client’ I mean both the individual hiring the FDE, usually a lawyer or private citizen, and the Court that will eventually rule on the matter.

Does the lack of certification mean an examiner is not competent? Not necessarily. Certification is voluntary and not all examiners feel it is needed or even important.  However, the lack of professional certification means that you, the client, will have to determine whether or not the examiner is competent and qualified using some other means.

This topic discussed at some length in a post you can find here.

What is the ABFDE?

The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, Inc. (ABFDE) is a body established in 1977 to do two main things:

  • “establish, maintain and enhance standards of qualification for those who practice forensic document examination”
  • “certify applicants who comply with ABFDE requirements for this expertise”

The goal of the ABFDE is simple: “to safeguard the public interest by ensuring that anyone who claims to be a specialist in forensic document examination does, in fact, possess the necessary skills and qualifications.”

I have written more about the ABFDE here, or please visit the ABFDE Website at

What is the FSAB?

The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, or FSAB, is a body established in 2000 to help ensure the quality of credentialing bodies (i.e., organizations that professionally certify examiners) with support and funding from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). 

The program “…is intended to establish a mechanism whereby the forensic community can assess, recognize and monitor organizations or professional boards that certify individual forensic scientists or other forensic specialists (conformity assessment bodies, CABs).”  A list of the accredited certifying bodies (CABs) can be found here.