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Transcription Tips

Did you know ExploreUK contains over a million digitized pages? Ink to Internet helps make these archival collections more visible and more accessible through collective transcription efforts. Every little bit helps!

Context is important

Letters and diaries contain important contextual information that helps with transcription. And handwriting becomes easier to read as you become familiar with it. Therefore, we recommend you:

Claim all pages of a letter or diary.

Do not finalize a document until you have transcribed all pages (you may figure out what that illegible name is several pages later!).

Read the collection notes from the collection guide before transcribing (located below the viewer).

Type what you see

All documents are unique and may contain various aspects such as drawings, notes, stamps, tables, or charts. Type what you see and follow the order and layout as best you can.

Transcribe typed and handwritten text.

Type words exactly as they are written in the document. This includes capitalization, abbreviations, names, dates, misspelled words, and even harmful or offensive terms. 

Resist the temptation to correct what you see in the document.


Make notations about something you see in the document by using brackets. For example: [stamp in blue ink]. 

Keep line breaks and paragraph breaks.

Indicate columns by using brackets. For example: [left side of page]

Include punctuation exactly as it appears in the document, even if it is incorrect.

Some letters have writing around the edge or cross-wise on the paper. Note this in brackets. For example: [written across page]

“I can’t quite read this”

18th and 19th century handwriting can be difficult to read! Compare similar letters in the document to help confirm that you are reading the text correctly. Letters will often appear similar or standard throughout a handwritten document from the same person.

If you can’t make out a word, use [illegible] or your best guess followed by a question mark within brackets [Chattanooga?], or even [town?] or [name?].

Consider the context. If you’re having trouble with a word or passage, read “around” it and think about what a likely word would be, or look for other letters and spellings in the document that are similar. Do your best and use your best judgement.

Tips for reading historic documents from the National Archives (scroll to midway through the page)

Save frequently

As you transcribe, be sure you save your work frequently. Click the “Save draft transcription” button to save your progress and all your hard work. Only one person can work on a page at one time.

Still need assistance?

Contact the Special Collections Research Center

Other resources

Tips for reading historic documents from the National Archives (scroll to midway through the page)

Medical abbreviations and symbols from Aiken’s Primary Studies for Nurses (1913)

Spencerian Script key from FamilyTree.com

Common eighteenth and nineteenth-century abbreviations and their full spellings from Library of Virginia (scroll midway down the page)

Hat tip

SCRC CrowdSource transcription guidelines are based off transcription projects at the National Archives and University of Iowa Libraries.