Doctors have the worst reputation. Executives aren't much better. "But in every occupation," claims Norman Liss, spokesman for the Writing Instrument Manufacturer's Association, "Americans suffer from lousy handwriting."

The problem is so bad, says Liss, that the organization is sponsoring a "Great American Scrawl Out" on John Hancock's birthday this Friday. "We want everyone to take an antiscribble pledge. If you can't clean up your whole alphabet, at least straighten out a few letters."

If, as handwriting analysts claim, "you are what you write," then we as a nation of chicken-skratchers may be in trouble. "Disorganized handwriting," says Frances Allbright, a founder of the American Association of Handwriting Analysts, "means a disorganized mind.

"Illegible handwriting can be the product of a self-centered society. You wrote the note so your job's done. You don't care if the other person can't read it."

But scribblers take heart. "I would not want to see Americans writing a perfect copybook hand," she says. "That reflects the type of regimented, robot-like culture that can stifle creativity."

While today's video society no longer thrills to a Palmer-perfect "p," it has rediscovered -- with great excitement -- the art of graphology. Pointing to Sigmund Freud's statement: "There is no doubt that men also express their character through their handwriting," graphologists are gainging a new respectability.

"Attitudes have changed greatly in the last two dozen years," says Allbright, whose group had nearly 400 members internationally. "Handwriting analysts are now routinely in courtrooms, personnel departments, in counseling. aPeople are discovering what we're saying holds true."

"Ten years ago people thought hypnosis was hocus-pocus," says Robert B. Martin, president of Handwriting Analysts, Inc. "Now it's everywhere from colleges to doctor's offices. Graphology appears to be following that pattern.

"People who lump it with something like astrology usually don't really know how it works. We're not predicting the future or telling you about yourself by the hour you were born. We're noting how you react to your environment and analyzing a conditioned response."

Like other instruments of applied psychology -- such as lie detectors or movement profiles -- says Martin, "graphology is based on analysis of an expressive movement. Everything a person is, is communicated through the way they present themself -- the way they walk, talk, dress.

"Handwriting analysts look at the way a person's writing varies from the style he or she was taught. We may all be taught the same script, yet everyone's handwriting is unique. That's because our personality affects the way we write."

To determine personality traits, graphologists examine handwriting characteristics such as pressure, slant, size and control. Some of their principles seem obvious: A person who presses down so hard that it leaves a groove in the paper is a very itense person.

Others are more obscure: Closed "a's," "o's," and "e's" may signal strong sexual appetites. High "d" stems may indicate vanity and low "d" stems denotes independence.

Although graphology is a respected science in Europe -- "It's taught in colleges there," says Martin -- "few American graphologists make their living solely from analyzing handwriting.

"Probably the largest use that graphology has here is an adjunct to a profession. I'm in business for myself, and I use it like some people might use body language -- to decide whether or not I wnat to deal with that person and how far I can trust him or her."

Many businesses ("a lot more than you'd think," says one graphologist) hire handwriting analysts to examine samples of applicants' or employes' handwriting. They often want to discover what a person is like and which people might work best together.

"Doctors schooled in graphology can tell if a patient has a brain tumor or cancer by looking at his handwriting," claims Martin, adding, "I'm not a doctor, so I can't say exactly how it's done.

"But healthy bodies maintain a certain chemical balance that can be upset when you're ill. It makes sense that an electrical imbalance would affect handwriting."

In some areas, he says, handwriting analysts are experimenting with "grapho-therapy" -- the notion that a person can change undersirable per-$99[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

Engaged couples who want to learn if they'll be compartible when married have turned to Grace Hughes, a certified graphoanalyst from Oxon Hill. "Your handwriting doesn't lie," she says, "and you can discover some fascinating things about your partner and yourself."

Hughes received her training through a correspondence course ($899) from the International Graphoanalysis Society, whose members charge about $25 for a brief personality profile up to about $300 for a vocational report.

Graphology also is taught "by experienced graphologists in nooks and crannies around the country," says AAHA's Allbright. "Our society and some others hold workshops, make referrals and have resources for interested people."

It's an "inexact science," she admits. "Like medicine it's not mathematically exact, so you can't say definitively that this particular stroke always means one specific thing. It's just one more tool for learing about people."