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Guidelines for Forensic Document Examination, Part 7, by SWGDOC (Forensic Science Communications, April 2000)


April 2000 - Volume 2 - Number 2

Guidelines for Forensic Document Examination


Part 7

Scientific Working Group for Forensic 

Document Examination (SWGDOC)


Revised January 2000

Read about …

Examination of Handwritten Items
Examination of Exclusively
Questioned Handwritten Items
Examination of Nonoriginal
Handwritten Items
Examination of Handwritten Items
Having a Distorted Appearance
Safe Handling of Contaminated Document Evidence and the Preservation of Associated Trace Evidence
Discussion of the Guideline
for the Safe Handling of Contaminated Document Evidence and the Preservation of Associated Trace Evidence
Quality Assurance and
Proficiency Testing

Guideline for Quality Assurance and Proficiency Testing

1. Purpose
To identify procedures necessary to provide adequate confidence that forensic document examiners will meet and maintain minimum levels of quality in forensic document examinations.

1.2. To describe the quality assurance requirements and procedures that forensic document examiners must follow to ensure the quality and integrity of their work in forensic document examinations.

2. Introduction
Terms defined in the glossary are in italics the first time they appear in the Guideline.

2.2. The definitions of the terms can be found at the end of this Guideline.

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3. Requirements
3.1. Management

3.1.1. In order to show a commitment to quality work, the manager of a laboratory that conducts forensic document examinations should support and adhere to the practices listed in the Guideline.

3.1.2. Any sole forensic document examiner may also be considered the laboratory manager, safety manager, and/or quality assurance manager.

3.2. Qualifications and Training

3.2.1. Quality assurance requires that basic requirements be met before training begins, that there is quality basic training, and that a program of continuing education continues in the posttraining period.

3.2.2. For additional information on the pretraining basic requirements and basic training, refer to the Qualifications and Training Subcommittee requirement.

3.2.3. Continuing Education Requirement
In order to improve their knowledge and skills, forensic document examiners should participate in any or all of the following activities:

    • Attend recognized forensic document meetings.
    • Attend and/or teach at recognized forensic document workshops.
    • Present and distribute papers at forensic document meetings.
    • Publish papers in forensic journals.
    • Serve as officers and/or committee members of forensic document organizations.
    • Be a member of forensic document organizations.

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3.3. Item Control and Chain of Custody

3.3.1. The chain of custody of the submitted items must be accurately maintained.

3.3.2. The submitted items in a forensic document examiner’s control must be properly protected.

3.3.3. The items received for examination must be properly described and marked so that they can be identified at a later date.

3.3.4. The forensic document examiner will only consider information relevant to the examination which is received with the items. This should include information about the type of case, what the questioned and known items are, and what types of examinations are requested. If additional information or clarifications are needed, the forensic document examiner should ask the contributor.

3.4. Analytical Procedures

3.4.1. A forensic document examiner will have written procedures that are followed for each type of examination conducted. The procedures should include any standards or controls which are to be used in the procedure.

3.4.2. The Scientific Working Group for Forensic Document Examination (SWGDOC) establishes procedures for use by forensic document examiners. Any procedures used must, at a minimum, include the recommended SWGDOC Guidelines.

3.5. Equipment and Chemicals

3.5.1. Laboratory equipment must have appropriate maintenance records.

3.5.2. The forensic document examiner who uses chemicals to conduct examinations must be assured of the quality of the reagents.

3.5.3. All chemicals must be stored and used under safe conditions, and the forensic document examiner must be aware of the hazards associated with the chemicals.

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3.6. Documentation

3.6.1. The forensic document examiner will maintain documentation on all cases that have been accepted for examination. This information can be kept electronically if its integrity can be ensured. At a minimum, this documentation must include the following:

    • List and description of items examined and their packaging when received.
    • Chain-of-custody information.
    • Photographs or other images made of the items examined.
    • Observations made during the examination.
    • Tests conducted and their results.
    • Controls and standards used.
    • Any administrative and/or peer review notations, if applicable.
    • Conclusions reached and the basis for those conclusions.
    • Communications with people involved in the submitted case.

3.6.2. The notes must be of a permanent nature with no information obscured by obliterations. However, pencil may be appropriate for diagrams and sketches.

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3.7. Reports and Administrative Reviews

3.7.1. All reports should accurately reflect the forensic document examiner’s findings in an examination.

3.7.2. At a minimum, the report should include the following:

    • A list of the items examined.
    • The results of the examinations conducted.

3.7.3. An administrative review of all reports will be conducted and noted. An administrative review can be conducted by another person or the forensic document examiner who examined the items.

3.7.4. Areas of the report included in the administrative review, at a minimum, should include the following:

    • Agency or client name.
    • Case number or other unique identifier.
    • Accurately described items.
    • Spelling.
    • Grammar.

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3.8. Technical or Peer Review

3.8.1. The technical or peer review is designed to ensure the conclusions expressed in the report are supported by the documentation and the results are appropriate. It is a quality control method used to ascertain compliance with a forensic document examiner’s procedures.

3.8.2. The technical review will be conducted by another forensic document examiner.

3.8.3. The number of technical reviews conducted will be established by the laboratory system or individual forensic document examiner. Annual technical reviews must be conducted.

3.8.4. Technical reviews should be completed before a report is released. However, technical reviews can be conducted after the issuance of a report.

3.8.5. The technical review can be conducted using the original items or reproductions of those items.

3.8.6. At a minimum, the technical review should include the following:

    • Were appropriate examinations performed?
    • Are the notes sufficient so that in the absence of the forensic document examiner, another forensic document examiner is able to interpret and explain what examinations were conducted?
    • Are there sufficient bases for the findings in the notes?
    • Does the report reflect the same findings described in the notes?
    • Are proper procedures followed?
    • Are appropriate verbal or written results reported?
    • Is there sufficient documentation to support the findings?

3.8.7. The forensic document examiner who signs the report is accountable for technical errors.

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3.9. Court Testimony

3.9.1. Forensic document examiners will have their courtroom testimony critiqued on a yearly basis.

3.9.2. Generally, forensic document examiners who have recently completed their training should be critiqued more frequently.

3.10. Proficiency Tests

3.10.1. Forensic document examiners must successfully complete at least one approved proficiency test per year.

3.10.2. An approved proficiency test is one which meets the criteria of and has been approved by the ASCLD-LAB PRC (Proficiency Review Committee).

3.10.3. Records regarding proficiency tests taken and their results must be retained.

3.11. Validation of Research and Development of New Procedures
New procedures must be validated prior to their use on casework.

3.12. Corrective Actions
Laboratories will have procedures to address conflicts that arise as a result of administrative or technical reviews.

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4. Glossary
Accreditation: A program whereby a laboratory demonstrates that it is operating under accepted standards to ensure quality assurance.

ASCLD-LAB: The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Chain of Custody: The identity of persons who handle evidence between the time of commission of the alleged offense and the ultimate disposition of the case. It is the responsibility of each transferee to ensure that the items are accounted for during the time that it is in their possession, that it is properly protected, and that there is a record of the names of the persons from whom they received it and to whom they delivered it, together with the time and date of such receipt and delivery.

Forensic Document Examiner: The definition of a forensic document examiner is currently under development by the SWGDOC Training and Qualifications Subcommittee.

Peer Review: Review by a peer of notes, data, and other documents which form the basis for a scientific conclusion.

Proficiency Tests: Tests to evaluate the competence of analysts and the quality performance of a laboratory. In open tests, the analysts are aware they are being tested. In blind tests, they are unaware they are being tested. Internal proficiency tests are conducted by the laboratory. External proficiency tests are conducted by an agency independent of the laboratory being tested.

Quality Assurance: Those planned and systematic actions necessary to provide sufficient confidence that a laboratory’s product or service will satisfy given requirements for quality.

Quality Control: Internal activities or activities according to externally established standards used to monitor the quality of analytical data and to ensure that it satisfies specified criteria.

Technical Review: See Peer Review

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board Manual, January 1997.


Comments and questions concerning the Guideline for Quality Assurance and Proficiency Testing may be forwarded to Janis Tweedy at janis.tweedy@state.mn.us.

Readers may also respond via a document comments form.

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