Hosting a Transcribe-a-Thon: Tips and Information

Organizing your class, community group, or professional organization for a transcribe-a-thon is a great way to volunteer while exploring - and enhancing- historical collections from around the Smithsonian. Review the information below to learn more about how to plan and carry out a successful transcribe-a-thon (virtually or in-person) with Smithsonian Transcription Center projects, and reach out to us directly at to ask questions and share your experience.


George Washington University Students transcribing Freedmen's Bureau Papers during our MLK Day of Service Transcribe-a-Thon, 2020.


Tips and Resources


Linked below are print-outs, links, and videos from the Transcription Center and wider Smithsonian community that may be useful for in-person and virtual transcribe-a-thons. 


Sign Up and Transcribe: An Introduction to the Smithsonian Transcription Center (Instructional Video)


Transcription Center Community Guidelines 


Sample - Getting Started PPT Presentation (download and adapt for your event!)


Transcription Center TIPS page (including instructions, FAQs, and more)


Printable PDF of Transcription Center Instructions  


One page Info Sheet on the Freedmen's Bureau Records 


Transcription Center - One Page Handout (What, How, and Helpful Tips)


Transcribing on the Transcription Center Quick Guide 


Reviewing on the Transcription Center Quick Guide


Transcription Center FAQ's


Outreach and Behind-the-Scenes Videos from the Transcription Center 


Tracking Volunteer Participation in the Transcription Center - PDF


Educator Resources - Smithsonian Learning Lab. Find Transcription Center on the Learning Lab, here


Project Ideas 


There are always ongoing/available projects needing transcription and review in the Smithsonian Transcription Center. However, the topics, format, and size of these projects varies, and all projects are available to all participants. This means that we are unable to reserve projects for one particular group of transcribers, and other digital volunteers may be working on the same materials as your group. If you're interested in focusing a classroom activity, event, or transcribe-a-thon around a specific topic, historical period, etc. that is not represented in the Transcription Center, please reach out to our team as we may be able to provide further information on upcoming projects.


Logistics: Planning and Carrying out a Transcribe-a-Thon


Get Accustomed to the Transcription Center Site:

To host a successful transcribe-a-thon you should familiarize yourself with how the Transcription Center works. We recommend registering for an account, by heading to the "sign up" page. Once you complete your account set up and log in, you'll be able to transcribe ongoing projects, review other volunteers' transcriptions, and track your progress and participation in the Transcription Center via the "My Work" section of your account. You may find it helpful to explore ongoing projects, look over our TIPS page, which includes general and advanced instructions, and try your hand at transcribing and reviewing. 


Define Goals of the Event

Transcribe-a-thons can focus on a specific topic (Women's History, Art History, Civil War Era), set of projects (Freedmen's Bureau Records), a particular task (transcribing or reviewing only), an introduction and overview of Smithsonian digital resources and Transcription Center projects, and/or a connection between your organization, local area, or chosen topic to materials held at the Smithsonian and available in the Transcription Center. No matter what you choose to focus on, it's helpful to provide information on this choice and the overall goals of the event to your participants. You may also find it useful to research other Smithsonian digital resources or outside materials related to your chosen topic to help provide additional context. 


Planning and Hosting a Virtual Transcribe-a-Thon


Choose designated date and time: Virtual transcribe-a-thons can be a set amount of time (2-3 hours) with online check-ins, social media engagement, etc. or they can be for an extended period (one full day, or even a week, inviting participants to transcribe or review when it suits their schedule). Just be sure to explain perameters and provide ways for participants to share their experiences, ask questions, and check in. 


Invite participants and offer online registration (including information on the when, what, who, where): Google forms, Eventbrite, or other freely available online registration forms may be helpful to use, and allow you to track how many people are interested in participating. We recommend including a note in the event registration that participants can sign up for a Transcription Center account ahead of time.


Distribute resources: Provide participants with direct links to the project (or projects) they'll be working on, Transcription Center instructions and handouts (see a list of useful resources above), and any historical or contextual information you feel may be useful for transcribing or leanring more about the topic of your transcribe-a-thon. Linking these in one page that's accessible to all may be one useful way to do this - e.g. in a shared Google doc and linked in your online event form; or including this information in a confirmation email to attendees. Choose any way that works best for you.


Offer a way for participants to check in, ask questions, and share discoveries: Even if an event is virtual, you can still communicate and collaborate with participants (and with the Transcription Center team!). Social media is a great way to do this - choose a designated hashtag (and be sure to use #Volunpeers to communicate with the Transcription Center and fellow digital volunteers); ask participants to share their discoveries, questions, and tips on Twitter or Facebook and have someone from your team monitoring these social media channels to respond. Talking to your participants online through a video chat on platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitter Live, or Zoom meeting, etc. may also be useful for engagement. 


Track participation and share progress: There is no minimum time requirement to participate in the Transcription Center -- every small contribution helps -- but you're welcome to track your event's accomplishments to share with your participants and others. Before the event begins, head to the Transcription Center and note the number of projects and total pages online that are featured as part of your transcribe-a-thon (you may find it most useful to record the direct URL links for each included project so you can refer back to these easily). At the end of the event period, check the Transcription Center projects again and see how many pages have been transcribed and reviewed. 


By signing up for an account, all users will also have access to a "My Work" section once they're logged in. Here, they can see how many pages they've individually transcribed and/or reviewed, and download a pdf report of this information.


Share your experience on social media; we'd love to highlight your contributions to other #volunpeers! If you gather any feedback during the event, such as exciting discoveries, lessons learned, or even problems faced, please email the Transcription Center team to let us know.


Planning and Hosting an In-Person Transcribe-a-Thon


Secure a location and reserve time: We recommend 2-3 hours for an in-person transcribe-a-thon. This way, there is enough time to introduce the topic and the Transcription Center, and allow participants to spend an hour or more actually transcribing, reviewing, or exploring projects. 


Invite participants and distribute resources (who, what, when, where): Create an event registration with information on the goal of the transcribe-a-thon, location details, and a way to RSVP/sign up. You may also want to send out resources (like instructions, information on creating a Transcription Center volunteer account, and more from the list of resources above) to participants ahead of time. 


Gather Supplies: Ensure that there are enough laptops or computers for participants to work on by requiring that participants bring their own, or by arranging for an event space that can provide them. Participants can share computers and work on a transcription page together -- when starting out, we recommend partnering up in groups of 2-3 to review and transcribe transcription pages together, making it easier to decipher words and get comfortable with the system. 


Internet Access: The Transcription Center is a web-based project so participants must have reliable access to the internet, preferably strong Wi-Fi or a wired connection. If the Wi-Fi requires a password, make sure it is easily available to attendees.


Create a schedule for the event: Make sure you allocate time to introduce the Transcription Center and the goals of the event to attendees, while also allowing for adequate time for transcription and exploration. Feel free to use any of the resources provided below, reach out to the Transcription Center team for additional information and help, and/or create your own materials for the event. 


Here is a sample transcribe-a-thon schedule: 


Introduction (10-15 minutes):

Overview of the Transcription Center and Chosen Projects

Goals of the Event

How to Navigate the Transcription Center site, instructions (hand-outs), and signing up for an account

How Attendees Can Share their Experiences During the Event (and after) -- on social media, or any other form of outreach and engagement that works for you.

Transcription and Review Example (it may be useful to pull up an ongoing page in the Transcription Center and show participants what transcribing and reviewing actually looks like, before you have them do this on their own).


Sign Up for Accounts (10 mins):

After introducing the Transcripiton Center and the overall event goals, allow participants time to sign up for user accounts. Users are allowed to transcribe anonymously (without an account), but by signing up, users can transcribe, review other volunteer transcriptions, and keep track of their work in the "My Work" section of their account after logging in. 


Group Activity- Transcribing and Reviewing! (1-2 hours):

Encourage participants to team up in groups of 2-3, choose a page needing transcription or review from the projects you're highlighting for the event (or any ongoing Transcription Center project), and dive in! You may want to walk around the room and help attendees with any questions as they work. Make sure to check in as well periodically with the entire group about what they're discovering, any comments they have, or issues they're running into.


Wrap-Up (15-20 mins):

Leave time at the end to review how much your group accomplished (make sure to tally page counts before the event begins and at the end), share feedback and final thoughts, and gather any necessary materials from attendees. 

Feel free to reach out to the Transcription Center team to share details about the event!