Digging Deep in the Archives: Transcription Guidance

Setting Up


Please use Microsoft Word, or a compatible programme. If you are using Pages on an Apple device guidance for converting your completed transcription can be found here.

New Record

Please start a new transcription file for each document. 


All transcriptions should be in Ariel, size 12pt.

File Names

The file name for the images we send out will be the finding number of the document. As most of the documents we will be looking at have more than one page it is likely that the image titles will have an additional number added on the end so we can save them separately. For example, if WYL150/6013/12 had two pages the image files would be titled WYL150_6013_12_pt1 and WYL150_6013_12_pt2.

Your transcription should be saved under the finding number and incorporate all the relevant images. So in the above example the transcription would be saved as WYL150_6013_12.

Finally, add your initials to the finding number on the title, my example would be saved as WYL150_6013_12_HH


Please don’t feel any pressure to rush the records as there are no time limits for completing the work. Please give us a rough idea of how long you spent on the records every time you send something back to us. This includes for the checking of other people’s transcriptions. We use these timings to write project reports and to keep track of the workload you have all taken on.


As these transcriptions will be going into our online catalogue we have to format them in a way that will be compatible with our cataloguing software. Sadly our catalogue cannot do everything Word can. The transcription will display in a text field on the catalogue, the dimensions of this box are not the same as the dimensions of a page on Word. The size of the box also changes depending on the device used to view it. This means that replicating the exact lay out of the original document is unnecessary as it might look right in Word or Pages, but it will look completely different in our catalogue.


Everything in the transcriptions must be aligned to the left of the page:

hear from you by the return of the Bearer, & you

will much oblige Dear Sr

Yr faithfull

humble Servt

Thomas Collins


Thursday morning


Do not copy the original spacing if it doesn’t impact the information in the letter. Someone reading your transcription usually doesn’t need to know if there was a gap left in the original document:

William Stones of Gouldsbourogh in the County of york

Gardeners near Knaresborough in the west Riding in yorkshire

A Recpt for a Salfe for Trees

4oz of Tallow

4oz of Beeswax


Don’t copy the indentations at the start of the lines:

My dear Sir,

I am come to ask

you, to have the extreme

Second Pages

If a document goes on to another page you don’t need to show this in the transcription. It shouldn’t make a difference to the context or the content of the letter. You can just carry straight on with the transcription. This is also true of a double page letter as shown below. This should be transcribed in a continuous block of text, you don’t need to show any difference between the two sides of the page. When you get to the bottom of the left hand side simply continue on with the writing on the right hand side of the page.

New Lines

Please start a new line each time the original writer does. This is so a reader can easily follow the transcription and find a particular word or section in the original document if needed.

New Paragraph

Where the original author has started a new paragraph please leave a double line space to signify this. This is because our catalogue does not have the same spacing as Word or Pages and paragraphs sit closer together. A double space makes it clear a new paragraph has been started. Paragraph breaks can alter the context of a sentence as they usually signify a topic change and they are therefore important to keep in the transcription.


As postage in the 18th and 19th centuries was charged by the number of sheets used many people folder their letters and used the back as an envelope. The information given on an envelope can be useful in a transcription so where possible we do want to include it. If you get a letter with an envelope like this it will be a separate image but can be transcribed together with the main body of the letter. To signify to the reader that it is a separate part of the document you can use notes in square brackets to show which bit is which:



The Honourable Mr F Robinson

Fellow Commoner

of Trinity College






Nov 14 1763

Dear Fritz

Mt hurry ever since I

came to Town…

Tables and Charts

Where tables or charts of information have been used you should transcribe all the information across the columns for each row using a new line for each row. Do not put a table in your transcript or try to space out the words to reflect the columns. If the headings of each column are vital to the context you can add them in square brackets where necessary, i.e. 5[Li] 17[s] 6[d]. In the case of money though it is usually clear what the numbers refer to as they come in threes.

The Right Honrble The Lord Irwin


Novr 7th To Thirty Two Bushells Malt – 5.17.6

 11 To Thirty Two Bushells – 5.17.6

19 To Thirty Two Bushells – 5.17.6

27 To Thirty Two Bushells – 5.17.6


Guesses and Unknown Words

For any words you can’t work out you can put [?] in place of the word. If you make a guess at a word you can put the guess in the square brackets, [guess]. You don’t need to do both, using square brackets shows the transcriber is unsure or has added something. We use [square brackets] instead of (rounded brackets) as many of the documents will include rounded brackets and we need to be clear which bits the transcriber has added and which are original to the document.

Quotation Marks

If quotation marks are used in the document please transcribe them a single marks, ‘ ’ rather than double “ ”. This is because our catalogue software cannot read double quotation marks properly.


All capital letters need to be kept as they are in the original. They can be hard to spot and often appear in odd places.


Where words are underlined you do not need to show this in the transcription. Our catalogue software cannot show underlining and it is not needed for the transcription. If we feel that the underling changes the context or meaning of a sentence we might put in a note to say something is underling but for the most part this is unnecessary.

Crossed Out Words

If words have been crossed out but are still legible put them in [square brackets] with the word deleted. If a replacement word has been added you should write that immediately after:

Sr Joseph retun’d on Friday from

[Holland – deleted] Ireland. We saw him on Saturday


Superscript refers to the small words or letters written above the main line of the text. As it does not usually add any necessary information to the text you do not need to show that superscript has been used. These words or letters can be transcribed as normal.

wicked Measures,  but thinking it better to sup-

-port the Crown & the Government through a

Spelling and Grammar

Write the text exactly as it is on the page. Where words are misspelled, letters are missed or punctuation is used incorrectly do not correct them or try to fill in the gaps. Watch out for Microsoft Word auto-correcting spellings!

Long Dash

Where the original author has used a long dash you should include it in the transcription. One standard modern dash is enough to show this, don’t try to use multiple dashes to recreate the length or shape of the original. This is because the purpose of these long dashes is not always clear, sometimes they are used to show a new paragraph has been started without starting a new line and thereby saving space, sometimes just elaborate dashes, and sometimes seem to just be pen flourishes. Because we can’t be sure and cannot therefore make a decision as to their relevance we always include them.

The Castle is a better Palace than St James’s, & Phoenix Park,

is  a very fine one. – Ld Townshend


If an ampersand (&) has been used you can use it in your transcript, but don’t change and to &. Ampersands can be hard to spot so try to keep an eye out for them:


Etc was usually written as &c. throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th. The modern ‘etc’ comes from the Latin ‘et cetera’, meaning ‘and similar’, so the 18th century version is much the same except they used ‘&’ instead of ‘et’. It can be transcribed as etc. or, if you prefer, keep it as &c.  


You may find that some records have two years written at the end of the date, eg ‘1737/8’. Prior to 1752 the calendar year started on 1st January but the legal year started on 25th March, much in the same way we still have a financial year now. This means dates from 1st January to 25th March were often written with both years as both were technically true. In this case for example it was 8th January 1738 but the legal year had not yet changed so according to the legal calendar it was 8th January 1737. In a transcription it is correct to put both numbers down if they are in the original letter, but in the catalogue we will use the new style dating and put 1738 as the official date for the document.


Money will be symbolised with Li or £, S, and d. This is from the pre-decimal system which many people will remember but the Li can trip us up sometimes. Li is short for Libre and denotes pounds, it is where we get our modern £ from. S stands for shillings, although originally the word used was Solidii, and d, (almost always seen in lower case), stands for denarii, meaning pence. The Libre, Solidii and denarii all come from Latin words and were in common usage for centuries. Over time the Li evolved into a £ so you may see both in the records we are looking at. They can all be transcribed as normal letters next to the number:


Where words have been abbreviated you don’t need to fill in the missing letters. Just write the letters that appear, even if it leaves the word incomplete. If the original author has used superscript to abbreviate you can transcribe the given letters as normal text:

-Gen. Gage is set out
Ld H. & Ldy G. being come

Hond Sir.

your very Obedt Humble


Geo. Robertson

This makes the transcription you are producing an exact replica of the original. There is a version of transcribing which involves filling out the missing letters but we are keen to have a copy of these letters that is true to the original documents. This means any researchers reading your work will be able to understand the original record without needing to see it! There also is always a risk with infilling the missing letters that we might choose the wrong ones and change the meaning of a word or sentence.

In the later stages of this process, when the transcriptions are going in to the catalogue staff may decide to fill out some of these contractions. This will only be done if it is necessary for the catalogue though, for example to make key word searching easier, or if we deem an abbreviation to be misleading or too difficult for a novice researcher to understand.

Final Tips


Please take your time with these transcriptions. There is no deadline for returning anything to us and we want you to enjoy the process. Working a bit more slowly also gives your eyes more of a chance to adjust to the handwriting and you have more chance of spotting little things that might help with the trickier words. Having a break and coming back to the record later can really help!


Once you have completed your transcription, read it back to yourself a couple of times. This helps you get the gist of what is being said and understand the context of the document. Doing this will give you an idea of what some missing words might be as they will fit in with the flow of the sentence around them, you can then go back to looking closely at them and see if anything fits. You are also more likely to spot any mistakes as incorrect words sometimes stand out. Obviously you don’t want to change anything you are confident about but you might get a few clues to help with any uncertainty.

Enjoy It!

We really hope you enjoy the process and have fun reading these fantastic documents. Try to have fun with the transcriptions, its hard going but can be really satisfying!