Instructions for the Transcription Center
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How the Process Works
We seek to balance quality and speed with our transcription process - which of course is still evolving as we continue to develop this service. At the moment, this is how our system works:
1) Anyone can start transcribing or add to a transcription of a document.
2) Once a volunteer decides they’ve “finished” and they’re ready for review, a different volunteer (who must have an account on the site) can review the transcription and either send it back for edits or complete the transcription.
3) The finished transcript is sent to the Smithsonian, where it may be used immediately, or undergo additional work.
Basic Transcription Instructions
Type what you see
Our main goal is to create text that mirrors this document. Write down words and paragraphs as you see them. Keep words in their original spelling, even if it is technically “wrong.” Find a way to include any notes the author may have written on the top, bottom or sidebar. One exception: if a word is hyphenated because it goes across two lines, type it out as one word.
Don’t worry about formatting
You don’t have to indicate bolded or italicized text. Don’t worry about accent marks or special characters. There is some special syntax for underlined or struck out words which you can find in the advanced instructions, but they are optional.
Every bit helps
It’s ok if you don’t have time to complete the entire transcription. Even adding a sentence or two makes it easier for the next person to work on it. Often two or more volunteers need to work together to finish a transcription.
Transcription is hard work, so make sure you save frequently. Click the [Save] button to save your progress. Remember that no one can edit a page if you are working on it. If you want to move on, you can click the orange [Complete & Mark for Review] button or [Save] and use the navigation buttons above the transcription field to change pages.
If you find a word you can’t quite read
Please make a note using double brackets [[ ]] like this: [[good guess?]] or simply [[?]]. Save your work and you can continue transcribing the rest of the item.
Navigating a Project
Did you leave a project on a certain page or want to move forward or backward in the project? You can use the [Go To Page] feature on the project page - located near the project summary - or you can navigate using [Go To Page] on the transcription asset page. On the transcription page, you’ll find the [Go To Page] box above the transcription field, next to the [Home] button.
If you aren’t sure, use your best judgment
One of the reasons this project is so exciting is that we’re not entirely sure what you’ll find in our collections. As you explore through our many historic documents and scientific labels, just do your best to make the transcription useful. You can contact us or use the [feedback] tab on the side if you have a specific question you’d like help with.
Advanced Transcription Instructions
When you see a sketch or picture on the page, please use the word “image” placed in double brackets: [[image]]. You may also describe the image within the double brackets, if you would like. Ex: [[image – bird with long beak and blue chest]]
If you see handwritten notes inserted by typewritten text, please insert them into the transcription box using a ^ and double brackets [[ ]] to contain the handwritten text.
This sentence is printed ^ [[and here is a handwritten note]] on the page using a typewriter.
Underline / Strikeout
Please write strikethrough or underlined, when appropriate, in double brackets before and after the word or phrase that has been struck out or underlined. Like this:
I really [[strikethrough]] hate [[/strikethrough]] don’t like the smell of rotten eggs.
Two pages on one image
When you reach the bottom of the first page, write [[end page]]. Then write [[start page]] and continue transcribing the second page.
When a volunteer completes a transcription and marks it for review, it’s good to get a second pair of eyes on it. Here’s how to review a transcription:
If the transcription is complete and ready:
If you feel there are errors that need to be corrected:
The Purpose of Transcription
Our goal with this project is to make our collections more accessible and useful to curators, researchers, and anyone with a curious spirit. Because computers have a hard time understanding handwriting, many of our collections still hold many secrets and hidden knowledge inside their pages. With your help, we can bring that knowledge to life.
Full-text transcription of documents makes them easier to search. If we want to know how many times the word “Civil War” comes up in a Smithsonian Secretary’s papers or find the earliest known location of a particular plant species, we must have that writing transcribed.
Cursive is often no longer taught in schools; to preserve our society’s understanding of historic documents for future generations, it is essential that we create text transcriptions of these documents.
Usefulness over Perfection
Ultimately, an imperfect transcription that is finished in a timely manner is more useful that a exhaustingly detailed and carefully scrutinized transcription that takes years to finish. Do your best but don’t worry about trying to be perfect.