How to Look at Handwriting

The physical act of writing has been observed in many cultures as early as when symbols were being used to express thoughts and feelings (Headrick and Hubert 11). If you have ever been, or are a post-secondary student where technology such as computers or tablets are available as a substitute for handwritten notes, then you know the argument all too well. It is said that handwriting improves the actual retention of information rather than the alternative. Although that may be true, people rely on computers and other technologies for chronicling anything from love letters to grocery lists because of the convenience. Though professors and teachers alike argue this point as a way to improve the quality of education, they are missing something important. An individual’s writing can say a lot about them, it can even distinctly set them apart from others.

The act of handwriting may be used as a way to record an uninterrupted thought. Without the interference of such things as autocorrect or predicted text, the individual’s writing stays true to themselves and their tone. Mihail Bakhtin, a theorist whose work centered around discourse and the derived notion of dialogic consciousness, said “all that touches me comes to my consciousness – beginning with my name – from the outside world, passing through the mouths of others (from the mother, etc.), with their intonation, their affective tonality, and their values.” (Bakhtin). Handwriting is unique in such a way that our tone and language can be a starting point in determining the individual aspects of the person using them. Bakhtin’s idea of conscious thought and subsequent language—which when written—is simultaneously a collection of forms but yet distinct for each person.

Internet Archive Book Images. “Talks on graphology, the art of knowing character through handwriting.” Wikimedia Commons, 2014.

It might not be as unique as a fingerprint but handwriting can, according to some who study it, be very complex (Headrick and Huber 14). The study of handwriting and ‘how’ we write, rather than ‘what’ we write is called graphology. When looking at handwriting, we first look at the content but rarely do we ever look at the loop of a cursive “L” or the indentations from the pressure made by the pen. Needless to say, it is not an exact science, and it’s possible it won’t help successfully profile someone using their to-do list. However, these theorists explain “that it is, in part, culture-dependent, and cultures differ with locales and undergo constant change. The evidence of this dependence is manifest in class, system, or national characteristics” (Headrick and Hubert 14). Graphology explains that when “’i’dots and ‘t‘ bars [are] evenly placed, curves, slowness, and even pressure” will indicate that someone is calm. Additionally, a “downward baseline, terminal stroke of last letter [which falls], descending lines and letters [that] form crumbles” can suggest that the writer may be depressed.

Analyzing the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of handwriting can offer more than the obvious consideration of the content of the writing. Although it partly contributes to the understanding of the person who writes it, it is possible to connect other meanings when deeply looking at the form itself.



Works Cited

Bakhtin, M. M. 1981 [1934–1935]. Discourse in the Novel. In The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. by M. Holquist, trans. by C. Emerson & M. Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 259–422.

“Handwriting Analysis Chart: Quick Graphology Guide.” Handwriting & Graphology, 17 Oct. 2017,

Huber, Roy A., and Alfred M. Headrick. Handwriting identification: facts and fundamentals. CRC Press, 1999.

Internet Archive Book Images. “Talks on graphology, the art of knowing character through handwriting.” Wikimedia Commons, 2014.

Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.