Transcription goals

Our goal is to collectively transcribe Harvard Library documents in order to enhance searchability and comprehensibility.

  • Searchability: The Colonial North America at Harvard Library project alone has more than 650,000 digitized pages of manuscript material. While excellent cataloging and description has made it possible to find many items through keyword searching, the vast majority of terms contained within the documents is not currently searchable. Transcribing each item, page-by-page, will allow scholars and other researchers to find what they are looking for more easily, and will allow for more sophisticated analysis across collections and items.
  • Comprehensibility: Our goal is not to create facsimile editions of manuscripts, nor to develop scholarly documentary editions. Instead, we are focused on capturing the vital parts of manuscript material and presenting them in a way that makes the document comprehensible. This goal informs the decision to aim for a looser form of transcription, where certain features of the original document (e.g. common contractions and conventions, like "Jno" for "John") are not transcribed precisely as written. This "semi-diplomatic" transcription approach increases both searchability and comprehensibility.

Guidelines for getting started

Sign up and find a page to transcribe

There are three things you need to do to get started: 1) sign up for an account on; 2) find some Harvard Library works that need to be transcribed; and 3) pick a page and begin transcribing!

Type what you see

Rarely are manuscript documents consistently and cleanly formatted. Smudges, crossed out words, torn paper, stamps, doodles, and other marks are scattered across the pages of historical manuscripts. Remembering the two primary goals of this transcription project–searchability and comprehensibility–you should transcribe as much as possible from the page exactly as you see it.

  • Misspellings should be retained
  • Don't alter capitalization choices
  • Non-textual markings (maps, images, stamps, doodles, etc.) should be described in [square brackets]. Ex: [remnants of a red wax seal].

Check the transcription conventions for more guidance and examples.

Keep moving

Don't get bogged down if you can't read a word. Mark the unknown word with a [?] and keep moving. As you get further in the document, you will likely get clues from context about what the word could be. You can then go back and add it. If you still can't figure it out, you can leave it for the next person to try to decipher. When focusing on searchability and comprehensibility, volume is more important than being 100% complete.

Save early and often

FromThePage does not autosave as you are transcribing. You should make a habit of clicking 'Save Changes' frequently to avoid losing work.