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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 38-41

A Comparison of the Identifying Features of Imitated Handwriting and Elderly Handwriting

Collaborative Innovation Center of Judicial Civilization; Forensic Document Examination Department, Key Laboratory of Evidence Science, China University of Political Science and Law, Ministry of Education, Beijing 100088; Forensic Document Examination Department, Fada Institute of Forensic Medicine and Science, Beijing 100192, China

Date of Web Publication31-Mar-2017

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jing Wang
Fada Institute of Forensic Medicine and Science, Engaged in Forensic Document Examination, Beijing 100192
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jfsm.jfsm_7_17

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Imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting are two manifestation patterns of altered handwriting. Several similarities in features can be found in both, such as gentle movement and curved jitter. In practice, it is very easy to confuse the two patterns, leading to wrong decisions and difficulties in document examination. The key to solving these problems is to recognize the similarities and differences between imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting. This paper comprises four parts. The first part introduces the general features of elderly handwriting; the second part takes up the general characteristics of imitated handwriting; the third part analyzes the common features of imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting; the fourth part draws a conclusion about their key points of identification. Since the number of cases requiring identification of elderly handwriting and imitated handwriting is increasing every year, this paper has practical significance for document examiners and provides theoretical support to questioned document examination.

Keywords: Elderly handwriting, features comparison, imitated handwriting, study

How to cite this article:
Wang J. A Comparison of the Identifying Features of Imitated Handwriting and Elderly Handwriting. J Forensic Sci Med 2017;3:38-41

How to cite this URL:
Wang J. A Comparison of the Identifying Features of Imitated Handwriting and Elderly Handwriting. J Forensic Sci Med [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Jan 28];3:38-41. Available from: https://www.jfsmonline.com/text.asp?2017/3/1/38/203553

  Introduction Top

With the aging of our population, the number of disputed cases regarding handwriting verification of elderly people in civil matters, economic contracts, as well as inheritances has increased. Especially in disputes about inheritance, the number of identification cases regarding elderly people's holograph wills and allograph wills is constantly increasing. Meanwhile, during the court testimony of these cases, appraisers are always being asked about the differences between imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting. The examination of both elderly handwriting and imitated handwriting is never easy in handwriting authentication. In consideration of the several similarities between imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting, such as gentle movement and curved jitter, it is quite possible to draw incorrect conclusions. The key to solving these problems is to recognize the similarities and differences between imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting.

  Characteristics of Elderly Handwriting Top

Elderly handwriting refers to the handwriting of the elderly, and it has its own characteristics, emerging from the differences in physical and psychological aspects as compared to a younger person.

Elderly handwriting belongs to the category of condition-altered handwriting, which means that the handwriting is a result of different physical and psychological conditions.[1] Physical changes generally refer to old age – deteriorating physiological function leads to the aging of the nervous system, skeleton, and muscles and degeneration of vision. In addition, the elderly are also usually afflicted by some disease, memory loss, and so on. Psychological changes mainly refer to the mindset of the elderly who are entering the final stage of life. Especially when confronted with the fear of death and worries about their spouse, children, and other issues when writing a will, it brings about a difference in their handwriting when compared with their normal psychological condition. Affected by the factors above, elderly handwriting generally exhibits the following characteristics.

Overall quality of writing declines and layout is irregular

Because of deteriorating physical condition, the coordination between the brain, eyes, arms, and fingers in an elderly person is obviously not as controlled as in a young man or woman, and there is a significant decline in the general writing level. In addition, the elderly seldom write after retiring or becoming sick, and this results in a decline in their writing skills. The overall quality of handwriting of the elderly declines, the size of the characters varies, and the layout is irregular.

Font becomes larger, structure becomes looser, and the collocation of strokes is incorrect

As people age, their vision gradually degrades, and their control of the body parts involved in writing declines. Therefore, the font of the handwriting becomes larger, the structure is much looser, and the collocation among strokes is not as accurate as that of a young person.

Unsteady in the first stroke, dragged in the end stroke, gentle writing force, and curved jitter

The deterioration of elderly persons' body functions leads to reduced control of the writing arm and fingers during the process of writing.[2] Specific performance issues include not being able to hold a pen tightly, writing inaccurately, dragging the end stroke, etc. When writing, an elderly person's arm may tremble regularly because of inappropriate use of force or the influence of a disease. This kind of regular tremor cannot be inhibited, and thus, the strokes used will be curved and gentle.

More typographical errors and cacography, pauses, and modified retraces

With the decline of an elderly person's memory function, the text information stored in his or her brain gradually blurs. Especially after retiring from work, which results in reduction of written communication, the writing-related memories cannot be consolidated and strengthened, and thus, they are gradually fade. When writing, the elderly experience character amnesia, make typographical errors, cacography, pause to recall and think, and always make modifications.

  Characteristics of Imitated Handwriting Top

Imitated handwriting refers to the imitation of another person's handwriting with malicious intentions. Imitated handwriting is same as forged handwriting, where the writers deliberately change their writing habits to hide their own purposes and frame other people. Because it is not easy to imitate other people's handwriting, the more an imitator writes, the higher the possibility of being exposed; therefore, in practice, the most common imitated handwriting is the signature. Signatures generally have few characters, the feature selection is narrow, and they differ from normal writing mainly in the writing speed, strength, angle, continuity, and rhythm. The general features of imitated handwriting are as follows.

Writing speed seems fast but is actually slow

Imitating someone else's handwriting is not as natural and smooth a process as one's own writing. On the one hand, the imitator needs to overcome any psychological tension by controlling the trembling of the hand and then writing as naturally and smoothly as possible; on the other hand, the imitator also needs to carefully observe the font, structure, shape, and other characteristics of the original handwriting and then copy it according to his/her own perception. Thus, in imitated handwriting, the movement is not smooth – there is a lack of coherent consistency, it does not have rhythm, and there is a lack of corresponding relation between strokes.

There may be stroke connection and the writing speed may seem fast, but the appearance is a result of writing movement and force, while the writing speed actually is slow. There is a contradiction between the superficial appearance and how it was actually produced.

Gentle strokes

In normal or natural handwriting, the changes in writing force are in direct proportion to the personal skill level and writing speed; for instance, a person with a high level of writing skill will have writing that is smoother and more powerful. In imitated handwriting, the imitator needs to write and think or write and observe at the same time to make the output resemble the original handwriting as much as possible. Thus, the writing movement will inevitably be incoherent, and the unevenness in writing force and stroke thickness will be evident. Parts such as turning and connecting strokes always show changes in writing force.

Curved jitter, pauses, and modified retraces

Normal handwriting is a reflex and natural movement and does not require much thought. The writing movement is coherent and smooth, there are no curved jitter and pauses, and unless there are writing errors, there are generally no modified retraces. Imitated handwriting is a purposeful behavior, and to make the imitated handwriting more similar to the original handwriting, the imitator has to slow down their writing speed while trying to remember or continuously observe the original handwriting.[3] Hence, the strokes will display curved jitter and pauses; this will be particularly obvious in some long strokes or turning strokes. When imitators find that some strokes or radicals are not alike, they will take remedial actions such as adding or changing strokes or making modifications.

  Comparison Study between Elderly and Imitated Handwriting Top

Different formation mechanism

Imitated handwriting is a subjective behavior. Imitators try to copy the handwriting habits of others to cover up their own natural style mainly by the combination of a visual and kinesthetic system. Characters with simple strokes and clear structure are easy to understand; characters with complex strokes and staggered stroke connection are more difficult. After selection, a lot of information has to be eliminated, and only that which is thought to be useful is temporarily stored in the brains of the imitator. The manner in which the imitation has done is related to the prior experience and training of the imitators, so the information selection has autonomy. Different people will write the same character in different ways using different information.

The decline in writing function in elderly people results from the deterioration of their physical functions; thus, their writing speed is slow, and the strokes have a curved jitter. These features are primarily caused by objective factors; subjective traces made by the elderly are not very common.

Different writing habits

In the field of handwriting examination, writing habits refer to the writer's own skill through long-term practice, which cannot be changed easily, and this is the key point and mainstay of handwriting verification. Thus, it is impossible to abandon one's own writing habits and obtain another's for a short time.

Because of the imitator's limited cognition of the original handwriting and focusing of the mind on the writing activity, it is inevitable that his or her own writing habits will be exposed in the imitation. Thus, imitated handwriting reflects the sum of writing habits of both the imitator and the person who is being imitated.

While elderly handwriting is the reflection of a person's writing habits after entering old age, it still bears the writing characteristics of his or her younger self. Ultimately, elderly handwriting reflects the same person's writing habits and characteristics.

Overall comparison of features

While the resemblance between imitated and original handwriting may seem remarkable, this kind of similarity is probably superficial or rough. In imitated writing, some features may occur inconsistently in the beginning and at the end. For example, the level of writing may show a lower front and higher rear; stroke force distribution may be lighter in the front and heavier at the end. These are likely to be caused by the imitator's psychological and emotional temperament. In the beginning, imitators try to write more carefully and with focused attention, but by the time they reach the last word or stroke, they usually want to finish as soon as possible. Hence, they speed up the writing, relax their attention, and gradually expose their own writing habits. The similarity of appearance, seemingly in harmony but actually at variance, reflects the characteristics of imitated handwriting.

The features of the handwriting of an elderly person are complete and consistent in overall appearance, such as text layout, writing level, and writing speed. However, there may be some discrepancies in the appearance or characteristics as compared to the handwriting from when he or she was younger or healthier. Corresponding with the similar appearance but different detailing of imitated handwriting, elderly handwriting has minor differences in subtle features but the same characteristics for the most part. In the appearance of characters and structure, handwriting samples and checked samples of the elderly may show significant differences, but the characteristics of writing style, stroke order, slant, or slope and other details have many similarities, reflecting the writing habits of the same person [Chart 1].

Minutiae analysis

Elderly handwriting is a dynamic stereotype of long-term writing.[4] Although some characteristics such as movement, connection, and stroke order may be affected by objective factors, they can be handled in a proper manner. In imitated handwriting, since the imitator may mainly focus on character fonts and shapes, more differences will show in the minutiae. Although both will display the phenomena of curved jitter, pauses, and modified retraces, they are somewhat different with regard to the minutiae.

Curved jitter

Affected by their physical condition, illnesses, and other problems, the elderly are always lacking in strength in the writing arm and experience rhythmic trembling while writing. This phenomenon is intrinsic to the writing process of the elderly. Thus, elderly handwriting shows curved jitter in the overall appearance and has a distinguished shape and natural distribution.

However, in imitated handwriting, imitators cannot concentrate on every aspect, and along with the trembling caused by tension, the writing will show a curved jitter. Usually, the curved jitter appears in long strokes or the parts that are not easy to be imitated, such as joint and transition parts. The jitter is to a lesser extent and has an unnatural form.


When elderly people write, temporarily blurred memory or forgetting the shape of a character results in the phenomenon of pauses or starting another stroke on the same stroke, and this generally has high frequency (the frequency of these pauses depends on the elderly writer's physical condition and the recurrence of the character, namely, whether it is a common word).

The feature of pauses occurs in imitated handwriting mainly because of the imitator's own memory and writing control. In this case, it is not related to the usage frequency of a single character, but the complexity of the structure and number of joints of the character – the more complex the structure and joints a single character has, the higher the frequency of pauses occurrences in imitated handwriting.

Modified retraces

The elderly generally stop writing to make modified retraces only when making mistakes.[5] The modifying movement is obvious, and the erasure sign is significant.

The modified retrace of imitated handwriting is not always easy to find and generally occurs in the parts that are not easy to be imitated. The parts that are not imitated very well will be modified subtly and discreetly. These features are a result of partly locality and contingency, and they are subtle and difficult to be detected.

In addition, elderly handwriting often showcases unstable writing movement and dragged end stroke, which rarely occurs in imitated handwriting.

  Examination Points Top

Fully understanding the samples

Careful examination of the samples is the key to differentiate between imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting. Only accurate understanding of the samples can help avoid reaching a false conclusion. The inspection of samples includes carefully examining the handwriting samples to identify any anomaly, analyzing the reasons for the same, and paying attention to both detailing and general characteristics, such as language and layout features and wording characteristics. Comprehensive analysis and system testing will lead to a thorough understanding of the examination samples.

Extensive collection of comparison samples

In real-world situations, it is usually not easy to collect comparison samples of elderly handwriting. Elderly people seldom write, so the number of handwriting materials that are of the same condition and time-period as the samples will be very few, and the number that can be used as comparison samples for legal procedures will be even fewer. From the point of view of quality, the elderly are affected by age, illnesses, etc. Even in the course of a day, their handwriting is likely to show a great difference. Therefore, it is very difficult to obtain comparison samples that are consistent with sampling standards.

In addition, from the point of view of sources, in cases such as the identification of handwriting in a will, the testator usually has died already. The comparison samples provided by family members or other parties cannot be confirmed by the original writer, and it is difficult to ensure the authenticity of the comparison material. Therefore, in this scenario, the handwriting examiners should communicate with the judges and request for as many comparison samples as possible. Even if these are not recognized by the two sides, those comparison samples could still be used as reference material by appraisers.

Reasonable understanding of the case

Imitated handwriting and elderly handwriting have some similarities in certain features, which make identification difficult. Therefore, it is not enough to reach a conclusion based only on the regularity of the writing characteristics. To avoid false conclusions as far as possible, a moderate understanding of the case is essential, which can help examiners obtain some useful information. Then, combined with the handwriting characteristics, an objective, scientific analysis can be performed, which will improve the accuracy of the conclusion regarding the identification. The way to understand the case is through communication with the judge and reading relevant records, appeals, and reports of previous experts.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Yuwen J, Mingli Z. Criminal Science and Technology of China, Forensic Document Examination. Beijing: Publishing House of People's Public Security University of China; 2002.  Back to cited text no. 1
Juan Z, Zhenxue Z. The Reasons and Features of the handwriting change of aged people. China J Forensic Sci 2009;2:31-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Yan Y. On Testament Handwriting of Elderly and Identification of Copied Handwriting. J Yun Nan Police Off Acad 2010;1:112-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Jixian J, Wenyuan Z. A comparative exam on Imitated Handwriting and Elderly Handwriting. Leagl System and Society 2011;6:276.  Back to cited text no. 4
Bugao X, Weizheng L, Feilong C. Analysis on the Verification of Older People's Handwriting. J Hunan Police Acad 2011;23;34-6.  Back to cited text no. 5


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