An Analyst's Job

Forensic science is the application of science to address issues under consideration in the legal system. Forensic examiners examine items that form part of a case
. Common criminal charges involved in a document examination case tend to lean towards White collar crime. These include identity theft, forgery, counterfeiting, fraud,or uttering a forged document. Questioned documents are often important in other contexts simp
ly because documents are used in so many different contexts and for so many different purposes. An example of this is a person may commit murder and forge a suicide note. This is an example where a document is produced as a fundamental part of a crime. More often a questioned document is simply the by-product of normal day-to-day business or personal activities. The American Society for Testing and Materials, publishes standards for many methods and procedures used by examiners. was the ASTM comittee for Questioned Documents, and ASTM Standard indicates there are four components to the work of a forensic document examiner. It states that an examiner "makes scientific examinations, comparisons, and analyses of documents in order to:
  1. establish genuineness or non genuineness, or to expose forgery, or to reveal alterations, additions or deletions,
  2. identify or eliminate persons as the source of handwriting,
  3. identify or eliminate the source of typewriting or other impression, marks, or relative evidence, and
  4. write reports or give testimony, when needed, to aid the users of the examiner's services in understanding the examiner's findings."
Some examiners limit their work to the examination and comparison of handwriting but most inspect and examine the whole document in accordance with the ASTM standard.

Education And Skill Requirements of Questioned Document Examiners

According to the American Society for Testing and Materials, potential candidates must have excellent analytical skills and the ability to discern and perceive subtle differences between items, such as handwriting samples, paper type and inks.
There are no college programs or diplomas that will qualify and individual to become a document examiner. Forensic document examiners must have earned at a minimum a bachelor's degree in one of the natural sciences and then complete a minimum of two years of training in an apprenticeship under an examiner.
Document examiners must have excellent eyesight and must undergo vision tests including the ability to distinguish forms, colors and distances.
Forensic Document Analysts can make $32,420 to $84,260 a year.


1) Specialized Light Sources, Magnifiers and Microscopes: The most important tools of the Forensic Document Examiner are their own two eyes, but because of the intricacy of the materials they are evaluating, specialized lighting and magnification can be critical. For this reason, there are pieces of equipment specifically made for forensic applications, including microscopes, handheld halogen magnifiers, overhead projectors, etc.
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Some specific equipment utilized by top Document Examiners: Stereo Star Zoom American optical 7x to 30x twin microscopes; American Optical Comparison Stereomicroscope; Micronta illuminated microscopes; incandescent battery handheld halogen magnifiers; a "reticle" or magnifying eyepiece with a built-in measuring devise; illuminated stand magnifiers, etc.
2) Cameras, Flat Copy Lenses, Overhead Projectors and Transparencies: Pictures may be necessary to further examine aspects of a document and Forensic Document Examiners may use magnified copies of questioned documents on an overhead display both when analyzing and when presenting their findings in a court of law. Cameras such as the Pentex ME with the Pentex Macro 1.4mm lens are often utilized.
3) A UV/IR Spectral Comparators: These machines use electromagnetic wavelengths to reveal different inks and other materials otherwise unnoticeable on a document. This can be critical in searching for clues of forgery or "cut and paste" on a document.
4) Protractors and Metric Measuring Devises: Important for comparing angles and patterns of letters in writing samples compared to the questioned document.
5) Electrostatic Detection Devices: For special cases, specialized instruments such as an electrostatic detection device can be used along with special toner powders to search for indentations on paper which show writing which has been imprinted
6) Computers: Computers have become a large part of the Document Examiner's arsenal of equipment in conjunction with most if not all of the above mentioned equipment.the paper because of the pressure put on the original document written above.
7) Multiple Samples of Known Handwriting: Always critical to any document or handwriting analysis is a large and varied sampling of known handwriting and/or signatures of the subject author of the questioned document or signature. Forensic Document Examiners attempting to validate a signature, for example, may require multiple samples of the party's signature on checks, tax returns, legal documents, letters, etc., particularly from a timeframe near the time of the writing of the questioned document, as handwriting does change somewhat over time and under certain conditions.


Early in 1972 a Federal Grand Jury heard the testimony of a Questioned Document Examiner from the Crime Laboratory of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service regarding questioned documents allegedly written by Howard R. Hughes. In these documents permission was granted for a biography of Mr. Hughes to be written by Clifford Irving. Mr. Irving had used these questioned documents to convince the editors of McGraw-Hill Book Co. and Life Magazine that he had a deal with Mr. Hughes - an allegation hotly contested by Howard Hughes when he learned of it. The testimony of the experts from the Postal Inspection Service was that the questioned documents were not written by Mr. Hughes. Often in forgery cases it is possible to conclude that the alleged author of a document did not do the writing, but it is more difficult to conclude that a particular person did do it. This is because the writing habits of the forger will often be buried in the attempt to simulate the pictoral look and style of the "target" writing. However, in this case, there was a large amount of writing in question. Mr. Irving had even had "Mr. Hughes" write a letter to the editors of Mc-Graw Hill to validate his agreement with Mr. Irving. The volume of questioned writing was enough that Mr. Irving was not able to keep up his "disguise" and his own individual writing characteristics showed through the veneer."

The Clifford Irving Hoax of the Howard Hughes Autobiography", R.A. Cabanne Journal of Forensic Sciences 20 (1975):5-17