Common Terms

Understanding the common terminology used in questioned document examination is key to interpreting the examination results and testimony from expert witnesses.

Alteration − A modification made to a document by physical, chemical or mechanical means.

Collected Known Specimens/Standards − Documents created in the normal course of a person’s business activities or daily living. These typically reflect the true writing habits of the individual.

Contemporaneous Writing − Material that is written around the same time period as the document in question.

Cursive − A type of smooth, flowing handwriting where letters within a word are joined. This is produced when the writing instrument is not lifted after most strokes.

Disguised Writing − Deliberately altered writing intended to conceal the identity of the writer by attempting to change his or her writing habits.

Distorted Writing − Writing that appears not naturally executed, either as a result of voluntary effort such as in disguised writing, or as a result of involuntary factors such as physical illness or writing surface.

Document − Any material that contains marks, symbols, or signs—visible, partially visible, or invisible—that may convey a meaning or message.

Electrostatic Detection Device (EDD) − The generic term for equipment that uses electrostatic charge to visualize writing impressions such as indentations and erasures. The electrostatic detection apparatus or "ESDA" is the most commonly used device of this type for document examinations.

Forensic Document Examiner (FDE) − One who studies the details and elements of documents in order to identify their source or determine their authenticity. Also known as an “FDE” or “document examiner”.

Handwriting Identification − The attempt to verify a person’s handwriting by comparing a document in question to a known handwriting sample. This term is preferred over “handwriting analysis” which usually refers to those who attempt to determine the character traits of a person by examining handwriting samples.

Indented Impressions − The depressed area on the surface of a document that was created by the pressure of writing or a mechanical means of printing.

Individualizing Characteristic − Any mark commonly produced during the creation of a document that helps to identify its source.

Natural Writing − Writing executed in a habitual manner, without an attempt to control or alter its characteristics.

Obliterations − Any area of a document that has been purposely covered, usually by other writing, to attempt to mask the markings that lay underneath.

Questioned Document − A document, usually related to matters involving criminal or civil litigation, in which the originality, authenticity or background is disputed.

Request Exemplars or Requested Known Specimens/Standards − Writing specimens created by an individual at the request of an investigator. These are typically created by having the investigator dictate the text to the subject. Creation of exemplars is conducted under tightly controlled, monitored conditions.

Significant Difference − An individualizing characteristic that is consistently divergent between questioned and known items.

Significant Similarity − An individualizing characteristic that is common between questioned and known items.

Video Spectral Comparator (VSC) − A digital imaging instrument manufactured by Foster + Freeman that employs combinations of light sources and filters to examine document evidence under various wavelengths of radiation ranging from ultraviolet to the infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This device is typically used to discriminate between different inks and reveal alterations or obliterations, visualize security features in papers, and examine characteristics such as watermarks and fiber disturbances using transmitted, direct, or oblique light.

Back to top of page ▲