The teaching of handwriting is more than just teaching how to write

There is more to the teaching of handwriting than just teaching how to write.  While many advocate the dropping of the teaching of handwriting from the curriculum as it may not be relevant in a digital age, the irony is that the cognitive development encouraged by the teaching of handwriting, is most certainly necessary in the digital age!  ‘We don’t need handwriting because we type these days’, is rather one dimensional thinking if the ongoing research into the link between handwriting and cognitive development is anything to go by.

In the digital age where children are being reared for occupations which do not as yet exist, the demand for higher order thinking skills is greater than ever before.  So where does learning to write fit in?  How will teaching handwriting, help to encourage higher order thinking skills?

Teaching handwriting

Teaching handwriting and cognitive development

Research has demonstrated a definite link between handwriting and cognitive and perceptual-motor development.  Furthermore, teaching handwriting encourages the ability to spell, read and comprehend, vital skills for those wanting to educate themselves at tertiary level.  There is also a definite correlation between graphic maturity and academic performance.

Research into the value of learning to write

Research indicating the need to maintain the teaching of handwriting outweighs any research suggesting that dispensing with it would have no impact on learning development.

Cognitive psychologist, Dehaene’s research indicates that handwriting stimulates the activation of neural pathways in the brain which facilitates learning. James (2012) in her study of brain function during the writing process in young children found that children who draw letters freehand showed increased activity in the three areas of the brain which are engaged when an adult reads and writes. The same test conducted using typing or tracing showed no evidence of such brain activity. Research also indicates a difference in brain activity between printing and cursive writing.

When the brain and hand are engaged in the same task, the brain forms neural pathways as it concentrates on the formation of letters.  Research conducted by Berninger (University of Washington) and Veray (University of Marseilles), showed that different brain activity occurs when a child writes and when a child types.  Furthermore, research indicates that writing encourages ideas generation a vital component in the problem solving process, which requires the higher order thinking skills of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

Children who type rather than write are also less likely to engage in reflection of content learnt. Processing of what is important and what is not, is absent.  Reflection on and repeated revisiting of the learning material, increases assimilation and understanding.  Hence the link between handwriting skills and academic performance.

Mueller and Opperheimer’s research indicated that students who took down notes by hand did better on conceptual questions in a test than did students who took notes on a computer.  Conceptual thinking is the ability to identify and integrate seemingly unrelated facts in order to solve a problem.

Learning to write, leads to learning to learn

The student who writes is more likely to use critical thinking than the student who uses an electronic device.  Writing notes requires active listening, discrimination between important and unimportant information, all very important skills for successful academic performance.  Students who learn passively do not achieve academically as well as students who study actively, which requires intentional engagement with the learning material.

While understanding how to work with electronic devices in the 21st century,is important, it does not follow that handwriting as a skill should be dropped.  These various skills can and should be taught concurrently and applied in appropriate learning contexts.

As an aside, I make mention of research which is emerging indicating that the light transmitted from tablets and i-pads, have a detrimental effect on the development of the eye in young children as well as brain function on old and young alike.


The link between the hand and the brain – the significance of handwriting analysis

Much research has been conducted over the last number of centuries, into handwriting as a link between the hand and the brain. The significance of handwriting analysis to reveal the link should not be underestimated.

Handwriting analysis is easily able to point to the presence of physical and psychological imbalances such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke etc in handwriting.

Seifer (2009, 225) explains that ‘any illness which disrupts the basal ganglia will affect fine motor control’ and the ability to control  writing skills.

Schezophrenia - deteriorating handwriting

Schezophrenia revealed in deteriorating handwriting

A damaged motor cortex will result in jerky writing and the smooth completion of strokes is disrupted.




Seifer 2009

The German physiologist, Preyer, coined the term ‘brain writing’ when referring to handwriting. Handwriting reflects the brain impulses of the writer. Whether the individual uses the hand, foot or mouth, the same core features will be present in the writing.  ‘The hand or the foot writes, but the brain dictates the peculiar shape of the movement.’ (Mendel 1982, p 339).  According to Mendel, (1982, p 342), ‘handwriting is a psycho-physiological process.  The initial impulse to write is a psychological process, e.g. the forming of letters, l, a, i, etc is a psychological process.  But the writing also involves the execution of movements: movements of contraction and movements of extension.  These are physiological processes, determined in their individual characteristics by individual peculiarities of build and physiological function.’  These factors influence the way the individual writer moves away from the copybook which was taught at school.

As Koppenhaver (2007) explains, everyone learns to write according to the system taught in a country, but as the person moves towards graphic maturity, they change and individualise their writing which thus becomes unique to them.  She points out that although many writers have similar individual characteristics, the combination of features is what makes each writer’s writing unique, i.e. the deviation from the copybook unique to each writer is what distinguishes the writing of a specific writer.  Features of writing were defined by Dick (in Morris 2000, p 63), as ‘those characteristics that are peculiar to the writing of a particular individual and which constitute his or her writing habits’ and these include conspicuous and inconspicuous characteristics.

Morris (2000) says that handwriting is a form of self expression and the graphically mature writer concentrates less on how the pen moves in the writing process and more on the content of what is being written.  As the writer becomes more and more adept at writing, it becomes a smoother and less conscious action.  For the skilled writer, the act of forming letters is automatic therefore unconscious and not deliberate.  This is contrary to the stilted, deliberate movements and writing actions of a forger.

According to Wolf (1963) since handwriting is an unconscious action, and since handwriting analysis is used to identify whether a writing is genuine, it is therefore recognised that the forger is not able to maintain writing features which are contrary to his or her unconscious personal handwriting trends which are part of personality.

This has significance for the forensic handwriting expert who should bear in mind that handwriting is a complex perceptual-motor task. During the course of writing the unique brain impulses of a writer or forger of writing will be revealed and the unique features included by the writer will eventually ‘slip’ through in the forgery.  A further significance would be that medical history could prove anomalous to a questioned handwriting.  An example of this would be handwriting line quality which is firm and strong, yet the supposed writer has Parkinson’s disease or had suffered a stroke at the time that the writing was claimed to have been written.

The handwriting analyst can never ignore what the handwriting reveals about the condition of the brain.


Handwriting Analysis for Personality Profiling – Cape Town

Handwriting Analysis for Personality Profiling

Handwriting Analysis

Handwriting Analysis for Personality Profiling

New group in Cape Town CBD – 10 March 2018

Alternate Saturdays 10h00 – 13h00

Module 1 : Fundamentals of Handwriting Analysis
8 per class

Registration closes 24 February 2018.
Click here  to enquire

Forensic Handwriting Examination Training in Cape Town

Forensic Handwriting Examination Training
New group in Cape Town CBD – 3 March 2018

Alternate Saturdays 10h00 – 13h00

Module 1 : Characteristics of Handwriting
8 per class

Forensic Handwriting Examination training

Forensic Handwriting Examinationss. 

Registration closes 24 February 2018.
Click here  to enquire

Social Cynicism and Forensic Document Examination

An interesting read based on research conducted in the US to determine the link between social cynicism and unethical behaviour. This relationship between social cynicism and ethical behaviour, is also often encountered in the field of forensic document examination in South Africa.

The negative impact of elitism on the forensic document examination industry

In our own country, we witness the same social cynicism in every field of work, including that of document examiner.  Depending on how you acquired your skills, your are regarded as more or less competent.

The irony is that it is not necessarily how or where you acquired your skills, but how you apply them post training.  A further element is how you go about continuous professional development in a world of knowledge which is in a constant and accelerated state of evolution and development.

The saying, ‘a bad workman always blames his tools’ can equally be turned around to ‘because I received my training at X Institution or organisation, my training is better than yours.’ So the claim therefore is that the ‘tools’ make the professional.  But another variable comes into play here.  The training may be good, but have you and are you applying it effectively?

In our country we have just witnessed school children from the most poverty stricken school environments, achieve distinctions.   They didn’t have all the resources (tools), but they made it their business to become knowledgeable and skilled.   Their determination, motivation and conscientiousness raised them above the challenges. It wasn’t only the ‘tools’ but the motivation, positive attitude and conscientiousness, which allowed them to achieve.

The same principle applies to the document examiner in South Africa.  Since there are no accredited institutions for the training of document examiners in South Africa, those who have the skills have acquired them in a variety of ways.  Since there are no accredited institutions for training, can one group claim to have superior training to any other?   The response to that question is a resounding no.  But apart from that, it doesn’t matter how renowned the training institute may be, why is it that some achieve great heights post training, while others maintain mediocrity?  Surely then it is based on more than the school you attended?

Social Cynicism, Ethics and Forensic Document Examination

In the forensic document examination environment, there are those who do their best to discredit others, and who claim to be the best.  These are individuals who hide behind a facade, not sure of their ability to provide a sound argument.  They turn negative attention to those who they feel threatened by, or those they mistrust based on where their training was completed.

In my own experience one such individual and the advocate team, did their utmost to prevent my presenting my findings.  The document examiner claimed to be among the best, but in the examination, used the known writing of three individuals as standards believing they belonged to the suspect.   Forensic document examination 101 states that you have to be absolutely sure of the standards against which you are comparing the questioned writing.  When this was pointed out, ostensibly redid the examination and came to the same conclusion.  Perhaps a gun for hire? The ethics in this case was undoubtedly not beyond reproach.  In an attempt to prove superiority, resorting to unethical behaviour was an option.


Social Cynicism

Clearly your superiority (if there is such a phenomenon) cannot therefore be determined by where you received  training.  Human behaviour is a significant factor in determining competency in any field.   As document examiners,  frequent introspection is necessary to maintain professionalism towards others in the profession as well as those we serve. Document examiners should consciously avoid social cynicism which does nothing positive for the profession.

Prof Burgess, in his article, outlines the negative effects of social cynicism.



The forensic handwriting examiner as expert witness in South Africa

The forensic handwriting examiner can be relied upon as an expert witness to testify about the authenticity of documents.

Most of the work done by document examiners in South Africa involves handwriting and printed documents. However distorted perceptions continue to exist about the status of forensic document / handwriting examiners as expert witnesses in South Africa.

If you are a document examiner or need to use one, this article will help you dispel those perceptions.

Part 1 – What is an expert witness in the South African context

Part 2 – When is a forensic handwriting examiner an expert

Part 3 – The difference between the study of handwriting for personality assessment and forensic handwriting examination

Part 4 -How does training as a handwriting analyst

Part 5 – What training opportunities are there for the forensic handwriting examiner in South Africa

Part 6 – Continuous Professional Development

List of sources

Do you require the services of an expert forensic handwriting examiner? Check our list of forensic handwriting examiners in Southern Africa here or contact us here.

Online forensic handwriting training – 2018

Would you like to study forensic handwriting examination but don’t have time to attend classes?  Are you a disciplined, motivated distance student? Graphanex offers online forensic handwriting training with dedicated online tutors.

To give you a sneak preview of our online learning, here’s how the course is offered.

Contact classes will also be held, commencing in February 2018.

To register your interest in online forensic handwriting training, contact us.

Online forensic handwriting training

Graphanex offers handwriting analysis and handwriting examination courses both as contact and as online classes. Students also have the option of moving between modes of delivery, i.e. online students who wish to attend a class or two can do so.  Contact students also have access to the online material.

All you need in the comfort of your office or home, is a computer with a camera and sound, and a stable internet connection.  And the determination to set aside regular study times and to apply the skills as frequently as possible.

Forensic Handwriting Examination training – 2018

Handwriting training for the February 2018 intake of forensic handwriting examination contact students for Module 1 – Characteristics of handwriting.

Click here for more information or visit our forensic handwriting examination course page for further details.

What is forensic handwriting examination?

Forensic handwriting examination is the examination of handwriting to establish authenticity of writing in questioned documents. It is the responsibility of the forensic handwriting examiner to determine whether the document is authentic or forged, original or altered.

Who should train as a forensic handwriting examiner?

In the 21st century with a surge in white collar crime, forensic investigators, law enforcement and banking and insurers involved in forensic work are responsible for determining the authenticity of writing on questioned documents.

Classes will be held in Pretoria and Cape Town (Monday evenings or Saturdays) from 2018.

Classes commence mid February 2018  

Register by 31 January 2018

Application form 2018

Interested in forensic handwriting examination? Visit our blog for insights and interesting information about this fascinating discipline.

Learning cursive at school, a novelty?

Children learning cursive.

What strikes me as I view the video, is that something which was so normal to teach a couple of decades ago, has become a novelty.  Although the children are not aware of the significance of learning cursive writing, those of us in the world of educational and cognitive psychology, neuroscience, education, are increasingly aware of the need for children to learn cursive despite the technology surrounding us.  To remove the teaching of cursive from schools before thorough study of the impact on learning, is reckless and premature and robs our children of valuable skills.

The Modular Forensic Handwriting Method

As an applied science, forensic handwriting examination as a discipline is continually striving to standardise a framework of methods of forensic handwriting examination to determine correlation between known and questioned writing.  The modular forensic handwriting method developed by Found and Bird (1996), provides one such framework of forensic handwriting methodology.

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Journal of Forensic Document Examination – Volume 26, 2016