Systematic Analysis is a forensic tool to examine texts (in documents and interviews) and pictures for psychosocial evidence

Experimentally tested and peer-reviewed

Haas, H., Toenz, P., Gubser-Ernst, J. & Pisarzewska Fuerst, M. (forthcoming). Analyzing the psychological and social contents of evidence - experimental comparison between guessing, naturalistic observation and systematic analysis JOFS, no pp.

The algorithm of five rules
How should texts and pictures containing psychosocial evidence be examined? Which tracks should be favored and pursued in cases with very little evidence available, when almost nothing is known yet? The method of Systematic Analysis has been developed for the purpose of examining (anonymous) letters, suicide notes, recordings of interviews and interrogations, drawings and photos. It consists in the application of five easily memorized rules derived from forensic science principles. They help investigators and experts to analyze the material and make sure that no details are forgotten when it comes to abduct hypotheses. The five rules determine which steps are to be taken first and when the analysis is accomplished. They are:

I.  Compare the object of observation to schemata (models) and put the material side by side with its model.

II.  Signs of evidence (indices, symbols, icons) have an outer appearance (formal aspect) pointing to one or several inner meanings (contents aspect).

III.  Structure the object into functional components, and explore each of them separately (formal and contents aspects).

IV.  Look out for inconsistencies and contradictions within the inventory of signs established by applying rules I through III.

V.  Look out for missing or superfluous aspects (compared to the models and after structuring the object).

Checking the plausibility of hypotheses
After going through the process of systematically registering and analyzing every important detail, we are able to generate first hypotheses (the abduction process according to Peirce). Each hypothesis should consequently be checked for plausibility with a 3-column table: signs contradicting H0, inconclusive signs, signs compatible with H0. This procedures garantees the hypotheses' refutability and makes decisions more transparant.

Even in the best of cases the picture of events gained by analyzing the evidence from a criminal case in retrospect must resemble quite the mental image of the medieval artist who sculpted the elephants on the Basle Munster. Obviously he had never seen an elephant but had been given some clues by a verbal description.

Supplemental materials

Haas, H. (2009). Systematic observation as a tool in combating terrorism. In M. Pieth, D. Thelesklaf & R. Ivory (Eds). Combating the Financing of Terrorism. Basle Institute on Governance. New York, NY: Peter Lang: 59-93. Download book chapter.

Soon available: Renfer, M. & Haas, H. (2008). Systematic analysis in counterterrorism: Messages on an Islamist Internet-forum International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 21(2): 314-336.

Download test-case A "Broken window" including model solutions

Download test-case B "Elephant drawing" including model solutions

Download test-case C "Murder scene" including model solutions

Download test-case D "Citizen's letter" including model solutions


Elephant sculptures on the Basle Munster

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  Programming and design support: Jakob Isler