Human Factors in Forensic Handwriting Examination

EWGHFHE coverOne of the projects I have had the pleasure to be involved in was the “Expert Working Group for Human Factors in Handwriting Examination”.  The WG was convened in 2015 to conduct a scientific assessment of the effects of Human Factors in Forensic Handwriting Examination, with the support of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Programs Office.

It was a lengthy process involving a lot of people drawn from many different domains.  The authors of the report included Melissa K. Taylor, Carolyne Bird, Brett Bishop, Ted Burkes, Michael P. Caligiuri, Bryan Found, Wesley P. Grose, Lauren R. Logan, Kenneth E. Melson, Mara L. Merlino, Larry S. Miller, Linton Mohammed, Jonathan Morris, John Paul Osborn, Nikola Osborne, Brent Ostrum, Christopher P. Saunders, Scott A. Shappell, H. David Sheets, Sargur N. Srihari, Reinoud D. Stoel, Thomas W. Vastrick, Heather E. Waltke, and Emily J. Will.

The final report has been published as a NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR #8282), as of February 18, 2020.1

The report abstract reads, as follows:

For some 6,000 years, humans have made an indelible mark on history through the loops, strokes, and other characters that constitute the written form of language – handwriting. The study of handwriting is also an important part of forensic science. By analyzing the characteristics of a handwritten note or signature, a trained forensic document examiner may be able to extract valuable information for determining whether a note or signature is genuine, as well as the likely writer. As with all human endeavors, handwriting examination is not immune to errors. In June 2015, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology convened the Expert Working Group for Human Factors in Handwriting Examination to conduct a scientific assessment of the effects of human factors on forensic handwriting examination with the goal of recommending strategies and approaches to improve its practice and reduce the likelihood of errors. This report provides a comprehensive discussion of how human factors relate to all aspects of handwriting examinations including communicating conclusions to all relevant parties through reports and testimony. The report also discusses education, training, and certification as well as the role of quality assurance, quality control, and management in reducing errors.

The document is not perfect (this type of thing rarely is).  However, a lot of effort went into it and the end result deserves careful consideration and review by forensic practitioners and anyone interested in the field.

You can get more information from the NIST Webpage:
Alternatively, here is a direct link to report:


Questioned Document Training at Central Piedmont Comm College

For some time forensic document examiners have been fortunate that the RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) offered a basic training course relating to our work through the Forensic Program at RIT.  Unfortunately, RIT recently decided to discontinue their popular Forensic Document Examiners Workshop.  

The good news is that Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), located in Charlotte, NC, has decided to step in to host/organize similar training in the form of a four-day conference. This new workshop has the support and the same industry speakers as was the case for RIT.

Topics to be covered include: 

  • security inks, substrate, and materials
  • optical variable devices/holograms
  • forensic devices and imaging software
  • understanding color theory and reproduction
  • overt and covert security features
  • foundations of the most common print processes

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CSFS Position paper on the Logical Approach

I recently published an editorial in the Journal of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.  Two versions were published almost simultaneously (the original written in English and a translation in French) entitled, respectively, “CSFS Document Section Position on the Logical Approach to Evidence Evaluation and Corresponding Wording of Conclusions” and “La position de la Section des documents de la SCSJ sur l’approche logique de l’évaluation de la preuve et le libellé des conclusions”.

I wrote these in my capacity as the sitting chairman of the Documents section of the CSFS, on behalf of the members of that section.  The impetus for writing them was to introduce the “logical approach” and related topics to the Canadian forensic community in a ‘formal’ way (hopefully resulting in ongoing discussion) and to provide the public and the courts with the perspective of forensic practitioners who have reviewed the literature and studied this issue in depth. To that end, the document references many initiatives relating to the topic. I will note that it’s not a perfect document but it covers the main points reasonably well.

Please note that this position paper was first written a few years ago.  There was considerable delay in publication relating to the production of an acceptable French-language translation of the document. I must thank Julie Binette who was invaluable in that process. The delay, however, means the references provided in the paper are not fully up-to-date with the very latest developments in this area.

Nonetheless, that shortcoming doesn’t detract from the position expressed.  Today there is even more support and justification than is outlined in the paper. 

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David H. Kaye’s “Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law” Blog

David H. Kaye (DHK) is one of my favourite writers. He is truly prolific and always manages to provide great insights for the reader. His grasp of statistics, logic, and the law is second-to-none, and his ability to communicate those very challenging topics to his audience is equally impressive.

As a mini introduction, David “…is Distinguished Professor, and Weiss Family Scholar in the School of Law, a graduate faculty member of Penn State’s Forensic Science Program, and a Regents’ Professor Emeritus, ASU.” If you would like to see a list of his publications check out 

Yes, DHK has written many things on many topics.1  But I would like to focus on his less formal writings from his blog  Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law.

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Interesting and Useful Stuff

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Forensic Document Examination is a complex area involving many different topics and abilities.  I am always looking for useful resources that can help me do this work and some of that information can be found online.

In time I would like to provide a more fulsome list of online resources pertaining to the different facets of this work but that is going to take a while to compile and it will be an ongoing project.  Still there are already a few websites I consider to be particularly interesting and useful.  I’ve compiled them into a list to serve as a starting point for a more complete and general list.

Some of these relate to Forensic Document Examination, some to logic and reasoning, and some pertain to programming and statistics (i.e., my main areas of interest). They are not listed in any particular order.  Other categories, and more sites, may be added from time to time.  In the meantime, I hope that you find them as interesting and useful as I have.  If you know of other sites that you think might be included here, please let me know via the contact page.  Enjoy!!

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