Some Variables Involved in Document Analysis

The study of the technology of writing involves the analysis of different variables. Aside from looking at the writing itself, the palaeographer will study the support materials, or surface upon which the inscriptions have been incised, and the instruments utilized.

In the American continent, however, both the materials and instruments utilized for the inscription of signs on a surface differed. The variables explained below are relevant to the study of documents created with writing systems based on the use of an alphabet.

Abbreviations were used to save space and effort when writing. They generally fall into three categories: suspensions, in which the end of the word is abbreviated, signaled by the use of a horizontal bar or another graphic symbol; contractions in which another part of the word is abbreviated with the use of a graphic symbol; abbreviation symbols, used for whole words and often derived from tachygraphic (shorthand) systems of antiquity.

This term refers to the order of succesion (from left to right and from top to bottom) in which the scribe executes the strokes that compose each of the letters.[*]

Graphic elements

In this area, the instruments utilized as devices for inscription (such as for example, a quill pen) as well as the the material used as support structure (pergament, paper, etc.) are analyzed.
The union of two or more letters. It was usually influenced by graphic factors and was very frequent in cursive writing.


Refers to the exterior appearance of all the conventional signs that permits the analysis, study and identification of a particular writing. As opposed to abbreviations, morphology refers to the forms that are used by those writing within a common graphic system and that can be easily recognized by any reader


Refers to the spelling and variations in the writing that may assist in the localization of a manuscript, or identification of a scribe.


This parameter involves a comparative study of the different types of writing. Two examples of types of writing are:

Everyday writing, is the one used commonly by the scribes during everyday life. This writing is open to all the influences and graphic characteristics that relate to speed and simplicity. Some of these influences are individual and without historic consequence. Others are adopted as part of the general practice and are, therefore, important.

Chancellery writing is a special writing that was developed for the use of expediting documents. It has a tendency to solemnity, and possesses precise physical characterizations. It is rich in superfluous accesories that intend to guarantee authenticity.

Unless noted otherwise, the information on this section is from the class lectures by Prof. María del Cármen Alvarez-Vázquez' course on Spanish Palaeography of the 16th Century, at the University of Seville, Spain.