Full Transcription Guidelines and Tips for Volunteer Transcribers

This page includes general guidelines for volunteers who help create transcriptions as well as tips and examples specific to current projects.

Handwriting styles vary greatly. Take your time familiarizing yourself with an individual’s handwriting. It gets easier as you spend more time with the project.

Introduction to Transcription

Please help us create transcriptions with search-friendly text.

  • Transcribe original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, special characters, word order, and page numbers exactly as they appear. Do not correct spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Do not expand abbreviations.
    Exceptions to this rule:
    • When the letter "s" is represented by a character resembling the lower case "f" (known as the long “s”), transcribe it as a regular “s”.
    • If a word is split between two lines transcribe the unsplit word.
    • Transcribe “ye” or “y” as “the”.
    • Transcribe foreign currency symbols (£) as words; for example, Pound. Leave American dollar signs as symbols, for example “$”.
    • Some 18th century writing uses a line over a consonant to denote a double letter, such as a line over the “m” in the word “common”; transcribe those words with the double letters spelled out: “common”.
    • If words or phrases have been underlined, it is not necessary to note the underlining, just type the words.
  • Start a new line for a paragraph, but do not indicate line breaks, indents, or other spacing.
  • If you are uncertain of a word or name, type your best guess followed by a question mark within square brackets: [Foster?] If something is illegible please use: [illegible].
  • Use [page break] to indicate the end of one page in an image with multiple, visible pages.
  • Note blank pages or content such as random notations, drawings, or calculations in square brackets: [blank page] [random numbers]
  • Note writing in different directions (upside down or perpendicular) in square brackets. After note, rotate the image as needed and continue transcribing: [writing continues in a different direction on the page]
  • Transcribe inserted or deleted/crossed out text in square brackets [inserted: yesterday’s] [deleted: you rascal] If you cannot read the deleted text, use [deleted: illegible]
  • If words or phrases have been underlined, it is not necessary to note the underlining, just type the words.

Hyphens and dashes and ampersands, oh my!

  • Hyphens that are used to connect two textual components into a single word should be transcribed without any extra space (e.g., "anti-slavery").
  • When a word is split between lines (this type of word may or may not have a hyphen), please transcribe the full word without line breaks or hyphens. For example if the word is split between lines: “res-olutions” the transcription should be “resolutions”
  • Dashes are sometimes used as periods and sometimes used as dashes. Transcribe all dashes as two hyphens. Please include one space before the two hyphens and one space after the two hyphens. (E.g., “Commodore Hood Saild this morning in the Romney for England -- I went to Church”; “The Highest Tide I ever Saw -- it has done great Damages”.)
  • “&” is the standard way to transcribe an ampersand. If you see “&” or “+” in the text, transcribe it as “&”.
  • “&tc” or “&c”: transcribe as “etc.”
  • Transcribe addresses as normal text in the body of a letter. If address is written in a different direction, use the rotate button in the image viewer to rotate the page and complete your annotations and transcriptions from that viewing angle.
  • Do not transcribe annotations or editorial marks if they are not in the hand of the author.   

Tips for specific projects

Lists of common symbols, handwriting quirks, and other tips have been created for the following projects:

Luman Boyden Missionary Journals

John Rowe Diaries

Sarah Gooll Putnam Diaries

If you still have questions

Sometimes manuscripts are difficult to decipher. Here are a few options when questions arise:

  • Put a comment or question in the DISCUSSION box (This feature is only visible when you are actively transcribing.)
  • Email crowdsourcing@masshist.org (Expect to wait up to 2 days for a reply.)