University text study will aid police

The University of Leicester's six-month linguistic analysis into text styles may prove an invaluable conviction tool

The war against crime has stepped up a gear as researchers investigate how textual behaviour can add weight to criminal cases.

Psychologists from the University of Leicester's Forensic Section plan to use linguistic analysis to observe the similarities and differences between individuals' text writing style. It believes the techniques could be critical in determining whether a suspect is innocent or guilty.

"This piece of Leicester research will have important applications for forensic investigation - for example, in the past text messages have been used as an alibi to murder," said Dr. Tim Grant who is conducting the research with his School of Psychology colleague, Kim Drake.

"Being able to say who wrote a particular text message sent from a particular phone has many potential forensic applications. Forensic authorship analysis has also been used in cases involving disputed confession, the sending of abusive or threatening emails or letters and in cases of copyright infringement."

The six-month study will rely on members of the public volunteering to complete an anonymous online questionnaire and submitting 10 texts for analysis. To ensure maximum participation, the university plans to use a technique called snowballing, which relies on participants' word of mouth to get friends involved. This method will enable the researchers to compare the texting styles of those who regularly text each other.

Grant added: "No previous study has systematically studied the linguistic consistency and variation in individuals' texting style. This will also be the first study to examine the influence of peer groups, upon writing style and texting language. Specifically, the study will examine how one person's style is influenced by texts received from their friends."

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