Forensic Linguistics

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
Episode #494

forensic linguistics

Today we're taking a look at how investigators use word choice and sentence structure, along with other writing-related characteristics, to solve crimes. You'll learn about graphology, questioned documents, and forensic linguistics.


When you hear the term forensic document examiner, you may immediately think of someone who analyzes handwriting. Forensic document examiners do look at handwriting, but that is only one part of their job. Let's start by looking at the differences between a graphologist from a forensic document examiner. 

The more common name for graphology is handwriting analysis. A graphologist studies handwriting to try to determine a person’s character or emotional state. Graphologist Andrea McNichol, quoted in Psychology Today a few years ago, said, “Just a handful of lines can tip me off to a person's general intelligence, emotional stability, characteristics as leader or follower, their level of honesty, frequency of drug use, and physical activity level.” 

Some consider graphology to be a fad or pseudoscience, however. The CIA's online archive of documents from the Center for the Study of Intelligence contains an assessment of graphology, and it states, “Graphology as a means of assessment has been lumped with astrology, phrenology, and other systems for reading character from physical characteristics such as length of fingers or color of hair. Handwriting is, however, the product of a person. There is therefore some reason to expect it might tell something about him.” 


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.

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