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What Is Handwriting?

By Steven Symes
Updated May 23, 2024
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Handwriting is the individual mechanical writing style of a specific person. The process involves a person who uses a pen or pencil to write symbols on paper, conveying ideas through those symbols. A person’s writing is unique, meaning that no two people have styles that match exactly.

Each writing system has its own rules for handwriting. The ideal patterns of symbols in a writing system might be passed down from generation to generation, normally through formal education. Even though an individual learns a writing system’s ideal patterns, his own writing does not necessarily reflect those patterns precisely.

A person must formally learn how to properly execute handwriting, since it is not a skill that is naturally learned, like walking. Each individual must be taught the ideal forms of each letter or symbol in a writing system. Often, the person must practice forming these symbols repeatedly until forming them becomes routine, allowing the person to form the symbols quickly.

The ability to form the symbols of a handwriting system well can impact various areas of a person’s life. Poor penmanship makes it difficult or impossible for others to read what a person has written by hand. If other people cannot read what someone has written, it can lead to problems such as pharmacists misinterpreting the type of medication a doctor has ordered, a teacher not being able to understand a student’s responses on an exam or a piece of mail being delivered to the wrong address.

People who are trained in handwriting analysis can determine a number of facts about a person, simply by studying documents written by that person’s hand. An analyst can determine if a person was intoxicated when he wrote a document, by analyzing how the person formed various characters. Graphologists study a person’s penmanship and its evolution over time to determine if that person suffers from one of several neurological disorders.

Trained handwriting analysts can also examine writing to determine if a document was written by an attributed author, or if it is a forgery created by the hand of another person. These analysts look for specific, unique qualities to an individual’s handwriting, such as the slope of the characters, how much pressure was applied to the paper and the average size of the characters in the person’s writing. The use of an analyst might be of value in criminal investigations and other legal disputes that hinge on determining if a document was written by a particular individual.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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