Transcribing Irregular and Difficult Text



When the author has corrected their text, either by adding or deleting words or phrases, make those corrections using <angle bracket> for added text and strikethrough for deleted text.


So if the text says: “I’ll meet you at 3pm 2pm at the ↑old↓ Station house. (the arrows mean it was written above the line), we would transcribe: I’ll meet you at 2 pm at the <old> Station house.

In Margin

If the author added a margin note,

[written in right margin] Washington (for example see Legislative Committee of the Woman's Peace Party, January 18, 1915)

If you are not certain whether the corrections were made by the author, treat them as if they were made by another.


If someone stuck a sticker on a letter (see example) do not transcribe the sticker as part of the letter. Summarize it in the Editors' Notes field.


When the recipient writes something on a letter, usually commenting on its content, or directing or describing some action to be done in response to the letter, indicate it in the Editor’s Notes field identifying the author, where the note was, and what it contained.

We will do the same if a note is written by someone else at the time the letter was created. Examples might be a secretary indicating that a request was carried out, a note written by one person enclosing the letter to another, etc.

The one exception to this is basic filing and routing instructions—“File” or “File NAWSA” or “Copy” which will not be transcribed.


Jane Addams wrote on the top of the first page: “Do not answer.”

Theodore Roosevelt placed a check mark to the left of the fourth and fifth paragraphs.

Jane Addams wrote “Yes” at the right of the last paragraph.

Jane Addams’ secretary wrote “answered” in the top right corner.

Jane Addams wrote on the back page: "Ans. in N.Y. March 10" Waukegan Cottage suggested."


Notes made by an archivist, a later researcher, family member or other, not made at the time of the letter’s creation will not be transcribed. Common marks include notes identifying the year or the name of the author of a letter, spelling out a partial name, or indicating the folder number that the letter is stored in. These are often, but not always in pencil, and sometimes in brackets.



We do not bracket punctuation. Add it silently if it is missing (at the end of a sentence) or if you are not sure (ex. whether it is a comma or a period). This includes missing diacritical marks.


Our general take on capitalization is that we will silently correct mis-capitalizations of proper nouns and words which are grammatically wrong if left lower case.

If a sentence does not begin with a capital letter we silently capitalize the first word.


Mrs. smith should be Mrs. Smith
feb. 3 should be Feb. 3

If the usage is ambiguous and not necessarily a proper noun, leave it as it is.


"United States Army and a similar (extensive) increase in the navy" should be left lower case.

We do replicate capitalization for emphasis, style, or to identify books or ships. See World's General Welfare Association

We do not replicate large first letters or a few all caps words in published documents that are merely for a publication's style or layout.

Example: the THE at the start of Preface to Safeguards for City Youth at Work and at Play, 1914


Sometimes people added s p a c e between each letter to emphasize a word. We do not do this—it will affect searching.


In order to simplify searching in the transcriptions, we will correct misspelled words, rendering them in brackets to indicate the change. Readers who want to see the original spelling can check the image of the document.

If the document says “Barharbor Maine” you would render it [Bar Harbor] Maine


When the accepted spelling of the word has changed, and the document spells it correctly for its time, use the current spelling and bracket the word. Do the same for non-standard spellings. Readers who want to see the original can check the image of the document.


  • Mifs - which uses the "long s" should be transcribed as [Miss]
  • altho - should be transcribes as [although]
  • tho - should be transcribed as [though]
  • inclosed - should be transcribed as [enclosed]
  • clew - should be transcribed as [clue]
  • draught - should be transcribed as [draft]
  • &c. - should be transcribed as [etc.]
  • thru - should be [through]
  • week end - should be [weekend]
  • wide spread - should be [widespread]


On hyphenated words, our goal is to retain as much of the character of the writing as we can, but not to overly impact text searching.

  • When words are hyphenated solely because it is the end of a line, we will silently omit the hyphen.
  • When words are hyphenated in a British spelling, archaic, or non-standard way, we will remove the hyphen and bracket them if the hyphenated word is a prefix.
  • Leave hyphenation for words that are non-standard, but are two words that can stand on their own.


  • co-operate - should be transcribed [cooperate] (prefix)
  • mal-adjusted - should be transcribed [maladjusted] (prefix)
  • out-cry - should be transcribed [outcry] (prefix)
  • battle-field - should be transcribed as battle-field. (non-prefix)
  • down-town - should be transcribed as down-town (non-prefix)
  • week-end - should be transcribed as [weekend] (archaic)


When words are spelled as in England, we will correct them to the American style, and use brackets to indicate the change.


  • cheque — will be transcribes as [check]
  • Realised — will be transcribed as [Realized]
  • colour — will be transcribed as [color]
  • self-defence — will be transcribed as self-[defense]

Did you know that there was no U in the English language until the 15th century?



When the word used is spelled incorrectly but sounds right, we will correct it and use brackets to indicate the change.


  • right — would be transcribed as [write]
  • to — would be transcribed as [too]
  • sore - would be transcribed as [soar]

If you are not sure type the word as it is spelled.


Much like misspellings, we will correct typographical errors, though we will correct them silently (no brackets). Common typographical errors are interposing letters or numbers, an added space in the middle of a word, a lack of space between words, or in the case of dictation, typing the wrong word for one that sounds alike. If you are not certain whether a word is mistyped or misspelled, treat it as misspelled.

l and 1

Old typewriters did not have a number 1 key— they used the lower case L instead. When you come across this, silently replace the L with a 1.


If the author writes a word twice, like "the the" for no apparent reason, silently correct it to a single instance.


Abbreviations will be rendered as they appear. Expanding them changes the tone of the writing too intrusively.


  • Jan'y for January
  • yrs for yours
  • IWW for Industrial Workers of the World.


We are silently regularizing capitalization errors and missing diacritical marks on foreign names in transcriptions.


We will make every effort to transcribe all text, but there will be words which we cannot read. Text that is uncertain will be bracketed; text that is a conjecture will have a question mark added to the end. If the word cannot be made out at all, use [illegible] and include the extent of the text and reason — [three words illegible]. If you can describe the type of word, number, signature, etc. do so. [illegible number] [illegible name], etc.


I hope to meet you and [Mrs. Smithers] for lunch.

I hope to meet you and Mrs. [Smithers?] for lunch.

I hope to meet you and [illegible name] for lunch.

I hope to meet you and Mrs. Smithers for lunch at [one number illegible] o’clock.

[Signature illegible]


If a page, or part of a page is missing or obliterated, indicate the extent in brackets


[one page missing]

[lower right corner torn]

[right margin cut off]

Quotation Marks as Ditto

When making a list, an author might use quotation marks (") to indicate that the above word or phrase should be repeated. In this case, or in any other case that the author seems to be trying to repeat a word or phrase, the above word or phrase should replace the quotation marks or other marks in brackets.

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