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Research

The role of research in handwriting analysis

The goal of the profession of graphology is to expand our understand the experiences of individuals, groups, and organizations in contemporary fast-paced and fluid social environments by assessing handwriting.

We are committed to expanding our knowledge through handwriting research that will enable us to fulfill our mission of fostering human development and improving efficiency in organizations.

Sources of information for handwriting analysis

Professional disciplines
Current trends

Graphology draws its knowledge from a broad range of areas including

  • forensic sciences
  • computer science
  • kinesiology
  • psychology
  • anthropology
  • business

Graphologists must be aware of trends in writing and communication such as:

  • handwriting education and practice in the schools
  • developments in digital communication technologies
  • advances in computing
  • demands for knowledge and communication skills in education, service professions, commerce, and society
Categories of handwriting research

Handwriting research falls into two broad categories: exploratory (also called descriptive) research and explanatory research. Although these two types of research have different goals and methods, both approaches apply ethical, systematic, and valid modes of inquiry to evaluate theories, make discoveries, and answer research questions (Flanagan, 2013).

Exploratory (Descriptive) Research

Explanatory Research

The approach: Exploratory or descriptive research is used to identify, define, examine, or measure elements of handwriting.  It identifies the “who, what, when, where, how” (Tripodi and Bender, 2010) of handwriting elements.

Descriptive research is a necessary step in conducting comparisons and establishing cause-and-effect relationships, but cannot identify the causes for the information that is obtained  (AECT, n.d.; Mitchell and Jolley, 2012).

Goals of descriptive handwriting research:

  • discover or measure handwriting features
  • observe the brain or body during handwriting
  • identify trends in the form or use of handwriting
  • develop theories about the production or meaning of handwriting factors.

The approach: Explanatory research is used to factors that cause a behavior or an outcome.  It identifies the effects of  handwriting explains the reasons for those outcomes.  

Explanatory research requires well-defined procedures for uncovering cause-and-effect relationships, measuring the effects of the study variables on the results, and enabling researchers to predict outcomes within a range of certainty (Queirós, Faria, & Almeida, 2017; Solomon & Draine, 2010).

In most cases, explanatory or predictive research studies are conducted with experimental or quasi-experimental research designs.   

Goals of explanatory handwriting research:  

  • determine factors that can explain relationships between elements of handwriting and individual characteristics such as brain activity, cognition, learning, emotion, attitudes, preferences, or behavior.
  • improve strategies for learning
  • discover or predict the effects of specified and controlled influences (variables) on results

Types of handwriting research methods with examples

Researchers select tools that are most appropriate for “identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns … within data” (Braun and Clarke, 2006, in Lochmiller, 2021). Both qualitative or quantitative methods can be used, depending on the research question.

Descriptive study methods

Any aspect of handwriting may be the subject of an exploratory or descriptive research study if ethical standards are maintained. Past studies have described hand and body movements, brain activity, writing strategies, letter formation, or pressure while writing so that the writing process is better understood. Other studies have examined features found in handwriting samples or obtained information from writers or professionals about their experiences with writing.

Common data collection methods include the following (Billups, 2021; Holosko, 2011):

  • Direct observation of writing as it is produced
  • Direct observation of documents and writing samples
  • Case studies
  • Cohort, cross-sectional, and longitudinal studies
  • Surveys 
  • Focus groups and interviews are used in descriptive research studies to gather information on the writers’ thoughts and experiences with writing (Billups, 2021).  

Literature reviews and meta-analyses of existing studies are a form of descriptive research with the aim of synthesizing findings from several sources of evidence (Borenstein et al., 2011).

A special case of descriptive research: correlational research.

Correlational studies in handwriting measure the strength of an association among handwriting variables and individual characteristics. They show patterns in the relationships among variables – whether the variables increase together, decrease together, move in opposite directions, or have no relationship at all. Correlational studies can reveal whether a relationship exists, but it does not produce the type of evidence needed to decide why a relationship exists or does not exist. They are most useful when the conditions for writing are not controlled by the researcher (Nurdianingsih, 2018) for practical or ethical reasons.

Correlational research example Houston (2018) obtained handwriting samples from pupils and their scores for composition. She discovered that quality and organization of the pupils’ compositions improved as their handwriting skills improved. Because she was conducting a correlational study, it is not possible to identify the causes for the changes she observed in handwriting skill and writing quality since those factors cannot be randomly assigned to students.    

Explanatory study methods Both qualitative and quantitative methods may be used to collect data for the purpose of explaining the reasons for the effect of a variable on handwriting or how handwriting contributes to an individual characteristic. Researchers apply detailed protocols for conducting these studies in a scientific, systematic manner for uncovering cause and effect relationships, measuring the effects of the study variables on the results. These procedures allow researchers to predict outcomes within a range of certainty (Queirós, Faria, & Almeida, 2017; Solomon & Draine, 2010). Experimental or quasi-experimental methods are the most commonly used procedures in explanatory research.

Explanatory research example.

A study from Johns Hopkins explored literacy learning under three learning conditions  - handwriting, typing, or visual practice (Wiley & Rapp, 2021). In this study, the researchers randomly assigned participants to one of the learning conditions and maintained close control over other possible influences on the learning process.  The findings showed that literacy learning was superior in the handwriting group: training was faster, and participants achieved statistically significant higher scores for letter recognition, writing, letter naming, and word reading than participants in the typing and visual display groups.  The experimental research design enabled the researchers to discover a cause-and-effect relationship between handwriting and effective literacy learning, leading them to conclude that “handwriting practice provides greater benefits than either typing or visual practice for a wide range of tasks [in literacy learning]”  (Wiley & Rapp, 2021,  p. 1098).

Your turn!

Scientific graphological research is urgently needed to maintain integrity and accuracy in the profession and is strongly supported by the

Thinking about research?  Scientific graphological research is strongly supported by the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation.  Join other interested handwriting analysts on the 5th Tuesday of the month in the online research group facilitated by Valerie Weil at valweil@comcast.net. We’ll talk about research ideas and resources and provide support. You don’t need to be an expert in math or statistics to be a researcher. Beginners are especially welcome.

AHAF provides help to researchers throughout their projects.  Assistance from the AHAF Research Chair is available to AHAF members for developing feasible research ideas, suggesting research methods, and assisting with data analysis and interpretation. AHAF highly recommends contacting the AHAF Research Chair or a research consultant of your choice before proceeding with a research study to ensure the best use of your time and resources.

References

Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT) (n.d.). 41.1 What is descriptive research?  In AECT (Ed.), The handbook of research for educational communications and technology. https://members.aect.org/edtech/ed1/41/41-01.html

Borenstein, M., Hedges, L. V., Higgins, J. P. T., & Rothstein, H. (2011). Introduction to meta-analysis. Wiley.

Creswell, J. (2003). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. (2nd ed.). Sage.

Billups, F. D. (2021).  Qualitative data collection tools: Design, development, and applications. Sage.

Flanagan, T. (2013). The scientific method and why it matters. C2C Journal, 7(1), 4-6.

Holosko, M. J. (2010). An overview of qualitative research methods. In B. Thyer (Ed)., The handbook of social work research methods. (2nd ed., pp. 340-354). Sage. 

Houston, J. L. (2018). A correlational study of 5th [sic] students handwriting legibility and

            scores on writing samples in a northwest Georgia school. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Liberty University.

Lochmiller, C. R. (2021). Conducting thematic analysis with qualitative data. The  Qualitative Report, 26(6), 2029-2044. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2021.5008

Mitchell, M.L., & Jolley, J.M. (2012). Research design explained (8th ed.).  Wadsworth.

Queirós, A., Faria, D., & Almeida, F. (2017).  Strengths and limitations of qualitative and quantitative research methods. European Journal of Education Studies, 3(9). 369-386.  doi: 10.5281/zenodo.887089 

Snowdon, D.A., Kemper, S.J., Mortimer,  J.A., Greiner, L.H., Wekstein, D.R., & Markesbery, W.R. (1996). Linguistic ability in early life and cognitive function and Alzheimer's disease in late life. Findings from the Nun Study. JAMA, 275(7), 528-32.

Solomon, P. & Draine, J. (2010). An overview of quantitative research methods. In B. Thyer (Ed)., The handbook of social work research methods. (2nd ed., pp. 26-36). Sage. 

Tripodi, S.  & Bender, K.  (2010). Definition and purpose of descriptive research. In B. Thyer (Ed)., The handbook of social work research methods. (2nd ed., pp. 120-130). Sage. 

Wiley, R. W. & Rapp, B. (2021). The effects of handwriting experience on literacy learning. Psychological Science, 32(7), pp. 1086-1103.

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