Transcription Center: Tips

Welcome to the Transcription Center Tips Page

Thank you for joining us - below you'll find helpful information, links to project instructions, and tips to help you transcribe and review.


General Instructions (click here)



Welcome! Are you ready to become a #volunpeer? We're excited to have you here with us! Before we get started, let's go over a few guidelines that will help us all work together on these projects:

  1. This is a space in which volunteers can join and work together.

    The Transcription Center team is constantly working with you and using your feedback to improve instructions. Participating Smithsonian organizations frequently add new projects. That means this is a busy place - be sure to check in on the instructions on each page when you start a new project and use the feedback button if you need help.
  2. We take care to protect your privacy and we take that task very seriously.

    Here is our privacy statement; you will also find it on the bottom of every page in the Transcription Center. You are only identified to other users by your self-determined username (contact us to change your username) – and that information only appears in the Latest Updates section on our homepage. Although we take these efforts to protect your privacy, remember that this is a public-facing site and what is transcribed can be read at anytime. Please be careful and do not share personal information such as your e-mail address when communicating using the “Notes on transcribing this Page” field.
  3. This is a peer-review process that helps us make more useful text for research and improve access to collections.

    We are constantly reviewing and refining the text we create here. At any time, pages you have transcribed may be edited - by other volunteers and by Smithsonian staff. Your participation on the site indicates that you are opting to join us in the peer review process. The best part is that you are welcome to participate flexibly, in any of the following ways: by transcribing anonymously, by transcribing with an account, by reviewing with an account, or by transcribing and reviewing with an account. We welcome your input; from one word, to one page, to one project.
  4. Have fun and treat each other with respect.

    We're all here to explore and experience Smithsonian Institution collections while we collaborate. For example, should you disagree with another volunteer on a word or an approach to transcribing, leave a Note and a third volunteer can help you make a decision. Remember our goal: it's not to be perfect but rather to create more SEARCHABLE, READABLE and USEFUL text to better share and create access to this information.

Thanks for reading and let us know if we can help you get started.



Looking for instructions to help you transcribe and review? Click and check out the specific steps for each template:


  • NEW! Searching the Transcription Center

    You can now search keywords or phrases to find text transcribed by volunpeers! Filter by museum or archive to narrow your results. Click here to get started.


    Save your work as you go.

    Remember to use the Save button, especially before using navigation buttons, so you do not lose your work.

    Transcribe in the way that makes sense for the document.

    Transcribe the page in the way that makes sense to you. For many pages this will be left to right, top to bottom. Some pages may need another approach.

    Don’t worry about formatting

    The transcription field doesn’t have formatting tools, so you won’t be able to align text or change the font. Include all the text you see and indicate images, as explained below. This will help the way we search the transcription text. Do your best to transcribe all elements of the document, including typewritten text that may appear in a table or in a structured format – you can take a stab at it, but you don’t have to worry about formatting.

    Write complete words

    Don’t break a word or use a dash if it is split between lines. Write the full word instead. This will help the way we search the transcription text.

    Don’t correct spelling mistakes in the original text

    Reproduce what you see on the page, including notes in the margins, calculations, and sketches. Please do not correct spelling and grammar.

    Indicate if you can’t make out a word or part of the page

    If you have difficulty reading parts of the page or a word, please make a note using double brackets and a question mark [[?]], or your guess, like this: [[good guess?]]

    Make a note of sketches or non-textual images on the page

    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 sketch like [[bird – image]]

    Do as much work as you can on a page

    If you are unsure or can’t complete an item, you can save your work and move on to another item.

    Indicate when there are multiple pages

    If an image has two pages: when you reach the bottom of the first page, write [[end page]]. Then write [[start page]] and continue transcribing. It's not necessary to write [[end page]] when you reach the end of the second page.

    Work together

    You can work on a transcription someone else has started or review someone else’s work at any time.

    Completing a Page & Marking for Review

    When you have finished transcribing a page, click the orange “Complete and Mark for Review” button. Then your fellow volunteers can begin reviewing. Please do not mark a page for review if the transcription is unfinished (to the best of a volunpeer's ability) or has not been started.

    Zooming in

    Is the site too small? Press "CTRL" and "+" at the same time to magnify your screen. To reset it, press "CTRL" and "-". You can also zoom in on any project image simply by hovering over it and using the "+" and "-" buttons that pop up.


    Review the accuracy of the transcription against the original

    Searching and indexing the transcribed text is an important goal, so reviewers should focus on the text in the original page.

    If an item looks correct, mark it as complete

    If it looks correct, click the green “Mark as Complete” button.

    Indicate if there are problems with the transcription

    If there are problems with the transcription, you can return it for more editing. Click the blue “Reopen for Editing” button, then you or others can make the changes.

    Submit feedback, comments, & questions when necessary

    Send us your comments through the Feedback button so we can make your experience transcribing even better.