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 Codes of Conduct and Graphology

Copyright 2005 by Nigel Bradley

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Cite article as: Bradley N (2005) Codes of Conduct and Graphology. 8th British Symposium of Graphology Proceedings (edited by Quigley E.). British Institute of Graphologists. St Anne's College Oxford 2-3 Sept 2005

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The British Institute of Graphologists has ten objects and aims, one of these is: to establish a binding code of ethical behaviour for all members. In order to support this aim this paper looks at how codes of conduct affect graphologists. It summarises the guidelines and looks at codes used by other professions and draws on “best practice” from many sources. It is based on documentary examination of published codes of ethics by professional bodies and graphologists. The paper identifies similarities and any differences in expected conduct. Practical suggestions are made to encourage all practising graphologists to implement such guidelines.

The activity of the graphologist can potentially intrude into any other discipline.   It is therefore important to be aware of the codes of conduct that apply in fields such as research, personnel and journalism. This article examines common elements that exist in several ethical codes and also discusses the existing codes of conduct promoted by other graphological bodies worldwide.


In order to see the context of ethics, it is useful to summarise the main uses of graphology. These applications were explained fully in a 2002 article by Bradley, which provides specific detail of procedures. The corporate application of graphology dominates the work carried out by practitioners; the purpose may be to recruit new employees or to assess people already in employment. This concerns assessing aptitudes for reasons such as recruitment, team-building, coaching, career management, promotion and internal mobility. Such work can involve screening numerous candidates or producing individual analyses of personality.

The use of graphology by private citizens, rather than by corporations, is the second-most important area and may involve personality portraits of adults or children. Such analyses are designed to understand the self and to assist when making important decisions. There is a sector that involves domestic counselling in which the writings of an entire family are used to facilitate understanding of relationship dynamics. This may extend to marriage guidance, even pre-marriage compatibility studies. The same technique has been adapted to business partnership compatibility.

The adult service is offered by a majority of practitioners whereas the analysis of children is offered by the minority (Bradley 2002). The non-adult services provide scholastic or vocational guidance. Other applications include historical research that uses graphology in biographical investigation or in genealogy.  Entertainment graphology has been used by newspapers, radio and television. The medical field is another use of graphology, as is legal work. The latter involves making writing comparisons for courts of law or other clients: effectively the graphologist is an expert witness.

From this account we can see that pre-employment screening of job applications is the most important, and to a great extent ethical guidelines have been created for this sector.

The Background to Ethics

The area of ethics is quite complex, the subject contains a great amount of jargon and it has a long history. Therefore we find deontology, the study of moral duty, we find Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) who is important for ethics because of his Categorical Imperative philosophy. The idea is this: "If an action is not right for everyone to take, then it is not right for anyone"; in other words if everyone were to carry out an action, the whole of society would turn to chaos. For example, if in the course of your work your client steals a handwritten specimen and then asks you to analyse it, it is not hard to suggest that this would be quite damaging to graphology if the practice were to be widespread. Descartes (1596–1650) is known for his Rule of Change which says: "If an action cannot be taken repeatedly, then it is not right to be taken at any time". As a graphologist we could say that an analysis for the newspapers that ridicules the writer should not be done in the first place, you may get away with this once but it does not mean that it is right to do it again. Indeed to follow Descartes closely, graphologists should advise newspapers to use different means to achieve their aims.

There are three strands to ethics: the law; agreed practice and good practice. These need to be considered when selling services, collecting handwriting specimens, making analyses, and reporting. They should also be considered when making decisions about the storage and destroying of documents.

The Law

The law is designed to help us to live together. It gives a set of rules which, we hope, keep civilisation civilised. One example is data protection legislation which was designed to protect the privacy of individuals. In the UK we have The Data Protection Act 1998, this act is important for the graphologist. The guiding principles of the Data Protection Act are:

  1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully.
  2. Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes and shall not be processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.
  3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive.
  4. Personal data shall be accurate and where necessary kept up to date.
  5. Personal data processed for any purpose shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose.
  6. Personal data should be processed according to the rights of data subjects.
  7. Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction or damage to personal data.
  8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country / territory outside the EEA unless the country ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects.

Many data protection discussions examine the concept of transparency. Transparency ensures that individuals have a very clear and unambiguous understanding of the purpose(s) for collecting data and how the data will be used. It is good practice to inform. This leads naturally to the idea of consent. When a handwriting specimen is collected, it would be good practice for individuals to give their consent and be able to opt out of any subsequent uses of the data. This means before collecting a specimen you must explain the purpose, what you expect from the person and what they can expect from you. That way the person can then make an informed decision about whether to cooperate. This might involve returning to them after they have had time to think. In some countries, for example in Switzerland, this consent has been integrated into data protection guidelines.

We can distinguish between: lack of consent, implied consent and informed consent, and this applies to graphology. The word participant has been used to mean the author being analysed.

Lack of consent

Participants lack knowledge. Deception or non-disclosure of purpose may be used to collect handwriting specimens.

Implied consent

Participants do not fully understand their rights. Graphologist assumes consent was given by the mere submission of a specimen.

Informed consent

Participants’ consents are given freely and based on full information about their rights and knowledge of how the specimen will be used.

There is a very compelling argument to say that handwriting is public. American law has examined this: “Handwriting, like speech, is repeatedly shown to the public and there is no more expectation of privacy in the physical characteristics of a writing than there is in the quality of his voice” (US vs. Mara 410 US 19, 35 L ED zd 99 (1973).

Other parties argue that handwriting should be private to the individual; from Israel Rudi Danor wrote (4 Feb 1988) “in a recent court case, the judge has considered a report of a graphologist an illegal invasion of privacy and judged accordingly.” This was spirit of this was endorsed more recently in The Jerusalem Post (Gilbert 2005):

“The use of graphology samples to screen potential workers would be outlawed under a bill submitted to the Knesset this week by Yahad MK Zehava Gal-On. The legislation, a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Employment Law, would prohibit an employer from asking a job seeker to take a graphology test or using the results if one is obtained.”

The article continues:

“According to Gal-On, the use of such tests "is problematic" and constitutes "an invasion of privacy" of potential workers. She said workers were fearful while taking such tests since they had no control over the results, whereas employers use the test to screen large quantities of applicants.”

Ethics in Graphology

France has a long tradition of involvement with graphology, so it is little surprise that as early as 1946 a grouping of professional graphologists was established in Paris, it was the Groupement des Graphologues-Conseils de France (GGCF). This body then created a professional code of practice for graphology, probably the first in the world. In Britain the Code of the British Institute of Graphologists was developed in the early 1980s, this is shown in Annex I.

The idea for a European code was put forward by Renna Nezos around 1990 (see Bradley 2001:198) and a first code with 14 articles was initiated by the GGCF and the Société Française de Graphologie. This was signed by presidents of graphology bodies from France, the UK, Germany, Belgium and Italy, the code came into force on 1 January 1992. The full code can be seen on the Internet in many languages.

In 1994 a code for American graphologists was created by a small group during the first Vanguard conference, at the Los Angeles Amfac Hotel. This group included Sheila Lowe, Jonathon Blake, Ze'ev Bar-Av and Linda Larson. It was later expanded by other people. As Sheila wrote “we based the code on that of the Psychological Association, and made some adjustments to fit our own needs.” The main part of the code is reproduced in annex II (with the permission of Sheila Lowe). Other codes, associated with specific graphology associations can also be found.

Having studied numerous codes in the world, from graphologists and different professions (see note 1), it is clear that there are similarities. Most codes have elements as follows:


Much graphological work is done with specimens obtained without consent or implied consent. In the current climate of data privacy and freedom of information this practice must surely come to an end. The graphological world should move towards informed consent with full transparency. Not only is this good practice, but it is likely to be demanded by data privacy activists. Further in the analysis process it is obvious that analyses, once made, are not an answer to all problems, there are limits which should be made clear. Having been exposed to material on ethics and understanding the uses made of graphological data I feel that “health warnings” or “disclaimers” should be provided by the graphologist for each analysis carried out. Such “health warnings” could show:

  1. The name of the analyst;
  2. The material used for the analysis. Whether made from an original, a photocopy, a fax or scan;
  3. The date of specimen & date of birth of the subject;
  4. The handedness of the subject;
  5. The writing instrument used;
  6. A “use by date”. A statement that the analysis was correct for the subject at the time the specimen was produced. After several months this analysis would no longer be applicable;
  7. Whether the subject gave informed consent
  8. Any other relevant information.

On private analyses this information is easy to add, where information is published in abstract form, for example in newspapers, the graphologist should insist that the main parts of these points also appear in print. The onus is on the graphologist to protect graphology; publishers are concerned with their own interests.

 This article was not intended to be a comprehensive appraisal of all codes that operate so the reader is encouraged to become aware of the codes that apply to relevant fields. The European code is particularly valuable and is easily viewed at More details of this and other codes and their implications can be found in an article by Bradley (2005)


1.      Codes consulted between 1980-2005 include: graphological bodies: (ADEG and respective members, ESHP, AGP, American Codes); management bodies (ASA, Royal Statistical Society, CAP, CIM, MRS, ESOMAR); Psychology Societies in UK, France and Italy; Investigative associations (WAD, IPI, Forensic Science Society); Journalists; Medical Professions, and others.

2.      This paper was prepared for the Graphology Conference, Oxford, 3 September 2005. Copyright 2005 Nigel Bradley. Views in this article should not be considered as legal advice, for such guidance the reader must consult a suitably qualified person.


Bradley, N (2001) Graphodigest 2000. The First Virtual Conference for Graphology. NRB, Chesterfield

Bradley N (2002) Graphology Prices and Uses. Oxford Symposium. 7th British Symposium on Graphology. Oxford 6-8 September

Bradley, N (2005) Codes of Conduct for Graphology in Europe. International Conference for Graphology, Milan, May 2005.

Gilbert, Nina (2005) MK proposes bill to outlaw graphology screening. The Jerusalem Post (March 15, 2005) (Visited 28 April 2005)


The European Code


 Data Protection Site

Annex I           Code of the British Institute of Graphologists

The Institute is particularly aware of the need to set a high standard of ethical behaviour both in its own performance and that of its members. It has established a formal Code of Ethics which is strictly applied. Any referrals under it are dealt with by the Ethics Committee and, if necessary, disciplinary action taken. All Members are required to sign a statement agreeing to comply with The Institute's Code of Ethics. The Code is quoted below:

·        As a member of the British Institute of Graphologists it is my duty to apply the universal laws governing the science of graphology and handwriting analysis in the development of my own character, ability and personality, and to utilise my knowledge and expertise to the benefit of fellow human beings and to the advancement and status of the graphological profession.

·        My conduct, appearance and deportment will at all times and in all places be such as not to bring into disrepute the science of graphology or myself as a practitioner thereof.

·        My reports, analyses, recommendations, consultations, forms of therapy, whether by way of specially designed handwriting exercises or by positive verbal suggestions, or any other positive form of therapy or prophylaxis must always present the facts tactfully, without bias or censure, but truthfully and with the full intent to be as helpful in the best possible and positive manner for the person or client involved. In each and every instance the utmost care will be exercised to maintain absolute confidentiality.

·        My actions will be such as to avoid legal liabilities, to be in full co-operation with all graphologists and members of allied professions, to stay within the limits of my qualifications in the use of graphology and related techniques of personality and character analysis, and to maintain fair and proper business practices.

Annex I           American Code of Ethics

1. The object of this Code of Ethics is to define the rights and responsibilities of graphologists wishing to exercise their profession in accordance with acceptable professional standards and the respective laws of the state in which the graphologist practices.

2. The graphologist is expected to maintain and develop his or her specialized skills by obtaining appropriate professional training. This may be accomplished through such venues as academic seminars, technical training, workshops, or the like. The graphologist is to follow developments in the profession and be aware of the literature relevant to the practice of graphology.

3. The graphologist studies the personality of the writer by examining an original sample of writing. When examining a facsimile or a photocopy of the original sample, the graphologist should have accompanying information regarding the pressure. It is further recommended that when giving a report on a fax or a photocopied sample, a disclaimer is included to indicate that the opinion rendered is qualified until such time as an original is made available.

4. The graphologist shall practice only within his or her area of competence or expertise. Consistent with the laws in the state where the graphologist practices, no diagnosis regarding physical or mental health problems will be given unless the graphologist is a psychologist or a physician.

5. The work undertaken by the graphologist concerning the human person imposes the respect of moral and professional values. The graphologist must safeguard at all times their own independence, integrity and sense of humanity. The practice of graphology must be free of racial, gender, religious or political biases.

6. The graphologist, as with other professionals, shall not use the information obtained from the handwriting to harm the writer, even if the writer is not the client, but a third party. Furthermore, in conveying their findings, the graphologist should specify that the information contained therein is confidential and should be used for professional purposes only. Graphologists who perform third-party analyses shall request of the client to inform the writer that their handwriting sample is subject to examination by a professional graphologist.

7. The graphologist shall adhere to the highest levels of confidentiality and shall not disclose any information regarding the client with said written reports further; it would be at the sole discretion guardian. In accordance with the laws of confidentiality, the report produced by the graphologist shall be provided only to the client supplying the sample. A disclaimer in the report is desirable, stating that, should the legal owner of the report choose to disseminate said written reports further, it would be at the sole discretion and responsibility of the owner of such reports.

8. The graphologist shall not disseminate or publish texts or analyses without the written agreement of the interested party or the owner of the document. However, handwriting samples may be used as long as the graphologist respects the anonymity and protects the identity of the writers.

9. Being the sole judge of the worth of the documents submitted to him/her, the graphologist shall reserve the right to refuse to provide an analysis without having to give any reason for doing so. The graphologist shall refuse to express an opinion on a document they know or suspect to be stolen, obtained in violation of any state or federal law, or under other questionable

10. Each association, or grouping of graphologists, having signed this Code of Ethics, shall undertake to ensure that it is respected and applied by all their qualified members. Each respective association of graphologists signatory to this Code shall establish and maintain a Board of Ethics. The responsibilities of such Board shall be to investigate the complaints made to the Board regarding questionable behavior of the graphologist; meet with the graphologist in question and render a decision on whether or not any rules of the Code of Ethics have been violated. Such a decision shall be made public by listing the name of the graphologist in the publication of said association, to the local association of attorneys, and to the National Board of
Ethics of Graphology. In cases of ''flagrant misconduct, the certifying body of the offending graphologist should consider suspension or revocation of certification and membership. Flagrant cases would include, but are not limited to breach of confidentiality, misrepresentation, fraudulent claims of education, and overstatement of credentials. Should the state where the offending graphologist practices adopt certification or licensing laws of graphologists, the Board of Ethics, upon finding the Code has been violated, shall relate such findings to the Regulatory authorities of the state.

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