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Handwriting Terminology for Questioned Document Examiners: A Pilot Project for Building a Voluntary Consensus Standard

NCJ Number
International Journal of Forensic Document Examiners Volume: 5 Dated: December/January 1999 Pages: 8-13
Peter V. Tytell
Date Published
6 pages
After discussing the need to develop standardized handwriting terminology for document examiners, this article identifies issues in this endeavor and describes a pilot project intended to develop a consensus on handwriting terminology among document examiners.
Under current conditions, individual document examiners may develop a professional vocabulary so highly individualized that it is unintelligible even to other document examiners. This makes communication between document examiners and clients, juries, and lawyers difficult if not impossible. Although consensus standards would be the best approach for standardizing terminology, considering the scope of the questioned document examiner's work and the number of technologies covered, a considerable amount of time would be required to reach a consensus on the many terms needed for a comprehensive glossary. The 80/20 Rule provides some hope. Also called Pareto's Law, this rule, when applied to the development of a glossary, states that 80 percent of the terms would require 20 percent of the effort to develop a glossary. This 80 percent of the glossary is likely to be composed of ready-made terms from other technical fields that have been adopted by document examiners, although not always with their proper definitions. A pilot project is underway to develop a consensus on terminology among document examiners. This project will begin by asking a group of document examiners to respond to a series of questions. Responses will be analyzed and collated. Where there are areas of general agreement, "average" statements will be prepared and points of divergence noted. The participants in the second stage will be given the analyses of the first-round results, including the "average" statements. They will be asked to choose between alternative statements and, if they wish, justify their choice to persuade others. One or more additional rounds can be conducted as needed. It is hoped that a clear consensus on one statement (or a limited number of statements) can be reached. The breadth and depth of this project will require several different questionnaires and call for several rounds of consensus building. Cooperation and input will be needed over an extended time. 24 references