Guidelines for Transcription

When transcribing manuscripts, be as faithful as possible to the layout, spelling, punctuation, and overall presentation of the original.

Spelling and Grammatical Errors

When a manuscript contains very few errors – and these errors are faithfully recorded in the transcription – an attentive reader might wonder whether the error rests with the author or the transcriber. The transcriber may clarify the source of the error by adding “[sic]” immediately after the appearance of the error in the transcription – e.g. “John recieved [sic] a letter from Mary” or “John and Mary is [sic] going to the store”. In instances of grossly misspelled words, the transcriber may choose to supply the correct word in square brackets following the misspelling – e.g. “Mary qeshund [questioned] John about the missing cake.” When a manuscript contains many spelling or grammatical errors, it is best to transcribe the manuscript simply “as is”.

Punctuation and Capitalization

The transcribe should preserve the punctuation and capitalization of the original manuscript.

  • Em-dashes – often appear instead of periods at the end of sentences in original manuscripts – a dash should be transcribed with two hyphens – e.g. “–“.
  • Periods  – In carelessly written manuscripts, periods often resemble commas; transcribe such an ambiguous mark as a period. If no punctuation appears at the end of a sentence, insert a period in square brackets – e.g. “[.]”
  • Quotation marks – are used only when a quotation (enclosed in quotation marks) appears in the manuscript. Use double quote marks (“).
  • Parentheses and brackets – Curve parentheses ( … ) are used only when they appear in the manuscript. Square brackets [ … ] are used for insertions by the transcriber. If the author of the manuscript has omitted one curve of parentheses, the transcriber may supply it in square brackets – e.g. “(or so he would have me believe[)].” Usually square brackets in the original manuscript can be changed to curve parentheses without further annotation.
  • Small capitals and italics – are preserved in the transcription.
  • Underlining – are preserved in the transcription when the author has underlined words in the text for emphasis. When entry dates are underlined in the original, the underlining is generally not retained.
  • Superscripts – in dates are not preserved – e.g. 12th is transcribed as 12th.
  • Paragraphs – are justified flush with the left-hand margin with a blank line between them.


Whenever possible, the transcriber should supply words, portions of words, or punctuation, when their omission in the original manuscript makes for difficult reading. The transcriber should enclose the supplied portions in square brackets; the insertions are not italicized – e.g. “I started [to] go home”.


If a space for a date, figure or other data is left blank in the manuscript, the form “[blank in MS.] is used in the transcription – e.g. “Personally appeared before me this  blank in MS.] day of January, 1826.”

Words Crossed Out

In manuscripts, words are often found crossed out by the author. In such cases, the text should be followed exactly. Use the font strike-through option for every word or letter struck out by the author.

Repetition of Words

Inadvertent repetition of words by the author is indicated by [sic] following the repetition – e.g. “care must be taken in in [sic] this matter.” In early manuscripts, the lower-right hand corner of a page often repeats the first word of the following page; in this case the word is not transcribed twice.


Initials should be missed out whenever the reader would be confused without the additional information. E. g. if in a particular situation “R. R.” stands for “Red River” rather than the more usual “Railroad”, the correct transcription would be “R[ed] R[iver]”. Note that the periods indicating the abbreviation are omitted in such cases.

His Mark

When a document is signed by an individual by his mark, the signature is rendered e.g. “His Mark Edmond Allen”.

Postscripts and Addresses

When transcribing portions of a manuscript other than the text itself, use the following conventions:

  • [P. S.] is the abbreviation for postscripts – followed by all remarks added after the document was signed, whether the remarks are marked as postscripts or not. If the author included the abbreviation “P. S.” then the square brackets are omitted and the author’s style is followed exactly.
  • [From:] precedes, in the transcript, any statement on the address sheet by the person who sent the letter.
  • [Postmark:] The postmark on a letter or envelop is transcribed as it may give a clue to the date or otherwise add to the reader’s information.
  • [Addressed:] introduces the address on the letter’s cover or envelop.
  • [Endorsed:] – Often in the nineteenth century, the person who received a letter or document wrote on the back whatever information would tell him at a glance the author, date, contents. Such information should be transcribed.

Damaged or Illegible Manuscripts

If a word or words can be guessed from the context, the transcriber may enclose the expression in square brackets – e.g. “soldiers encamped at Fo[rt Welling]ton near Prescott” or “he [had] fallen on hard times”. Uncertain but probable guesses are followed by a question mark – e. g. “the boat landed at [Brock?]ville before proceeding to Kingston”. If no guess can be made, an appropriate remark may be supplied – e. g. “the [MS. blotted]n helped the emigrants” or “the horse was traded for twenty [MS. torn]es” or “fire broke out and [MS. illegible] were destroyed” or “Captain [name illegible] ordered the men to retreat”.

Transcriber’s Comments

Comments that relate directly to the text are inserted at the point where the comment is needed; the comment are enclosed in square brackets and italicized. E. g. “[written sideways in margin]: Received 5th April 1825″ or “[“Reply” is written opposite this word in the margin].”

Comments that give additional information about the manuscript, the people or events discussed in the manuscript, or other supplementary information are placed in Comments section below the Scripto Transcription.





One thought on “Guidelines for Transcription”

  1. I would like to volunteer to transcribe but the email link on your site is not working. Please let me know how to volunteer. Thank you.

Leave a Reply