Forensic authorship analysis

by Frankie Pagnacco on 9 November 2009

I was intrigued to discover recently something called forensic authorship analysis. Basically this is analysis of patterns and styles of writing for crime solving purposes. And now that texting accounts for a large part of our written communication, analysis of people’s messages has actually helped solve crimes.

Part of the reason for this is that texting has developed into a fairly freeform language allowing for individual styles. So when murderers send texts from their victim’s phones after they’ve done the deed, to cover their tracks, they are very likely giving the game away.

For my part, if anyone were to want to abduct and murder me, I’ll warn you that you’d be ill advised. The reason for this is that I write out my texts in whole words and sentences, with perfect spelling and grammar and fully punctuated. That’s commas and everything. So you’d spend more time figuring out the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’ than digging me a shallow grave. There are only two words I contract but I’d be making things easy if I revealed which ones they are.

An examination of my friends’ texting styles reveals that one uses so much textspeak that I often have to call up to ask for a translation. Another friend addresses me with the same bizarre nick-name at the start of each message. Yet another always, but always, answers with ‘Ta muchly’. If any of them were to depart at the hands of an evil-doer I’d notice in an instant.

I’ll bet that if you think of it you can tell who’s texting you even without seeing their name on the screen. That’s the forensic authorship effect… taking effect. So if friends start texting out of character – and I’m not talking the 3am ‘I think I luv u’ out of character – go straight to the police.

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