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Who Wrote It? Steps Toward a Science of Authorship Identification

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 233 Dated: September 1997 Pages: 15-22
Date Published
September 1997
8 pages

This article outlines methods used to determine a document's origins and whether it is authentic or forged; it also discusses techniques needed to keep pace with computer disks and other technology related to authorship and with court-developed criteria that affect the admissibility and influence of testimony on authorship identification.


Judicial decisions challenging the admissibility of handwriting identification means that questioned document examination (QDE) faces a steep legal and intellectual challenge to create an authentic science of document authentication via handwriting. A 1996 workshop sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) focused on developing a research agenda for QDE. In addition, language-based author identification for electronic documents needs to develop a sound scientific method if it is to serve justice and truth. Theoretical foundations for linguistic identification derive from the concepts of dialect and idiolect, language processing, and metalinguistic awareness. An Automated Linguistic Authentication System (ALAS) developed through NIJ has two main components: (1) a database of documents, and (2) a language parsing program. A pilot study of the use of this method concluded that a syntactic method of analysis grounded in linguistic theory and implemented within a computer program may be the route to an authentic science of language-based author identification. Reference notes and figure

Date Published: September 1, 1997