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State Library of New South Wales


Home Content How-To Guide

How-To Guide

Procedures and Training Material

Why transcribe?
Transcribing original documents helps make collections accessible. Old handwriting is hard to understand for us, computers have an even harder time. A transcript allows researchers and interested people to search the whole document for names, places or subjects of interest that could not be done without it. It takes time and patience and we are grateful for every sentence that you can type for us.

Getting started
To get started you need to login or register and then you can choose an item to transcribe. Click on a project that interests you, from there any document that is marked "Not yet started" is ready to transcribe. You can also choose one that is marked "partially transcribed", these have been started but you are welcome to help out others to finish it. The text format should be in HTML.

Type what is there
Transcripts are a copy of the original document, warts and all. If there is writing in the margins or outside of the main text include it in the transcription where appropriate. You can type it at the bottom if it doesn’t fit in anywhere else. You don’t need to include printed text from the diary such as letterheads, diary calendars or other printed pages.

Enter the words as they are spelt in the original. In the case of place names and significant words which are misspelt and where the correct spelling is known, enter the spelling as in the original but follow with the correct spelling in square brackets.  This is so that a word search using the correct spelling will find the entry.

Formatting isn’t important
The most important thing is the words so you don’t need to place in line breaks or spend hours finding the right symbol.
In sections of text, do not attempt to reproduce the same page layout as in the original. For example, where the original is a small diary with few words in a line. Of course there are many exceptions where short lines are appropriate.
You can use formatting tools to underline, strike through or find special characters such as the pound (£) symbol to complete the transcription. Other tools available in the transcribing text area are listed at Editor tools below.
Use the TABLE function where lists are involved.
Clicking ENTER at the end of a line will result a double line space. To achieve single line spacing, press SHIFT + ENTER at the end of the line.

Deciphering words you can’t read
In cases where the words are difficult to decipher there are two alternatives. If the word cannot be deciphered enter [indecipherable] in place of the word. If partially so, enter your best guess thus, eg. [abcdef?] 
Place names and proper names are important and every effort should be made to decipher them.
The same word sometimes appears on other pages with greater clarity. If so go back and correct the previous entries.
See this a helpful guide from the Natural History Museum for more information on how to decipher unfamiliar handwriting.

Square brackets are only used to denote entries by the transcriber.  If the diarist uses square brackets, change to curved brackets.

Page numbers
Insert page number shown above the image page after deleting the html number, e.g.  [Page 19]

Finishing a page
Before closing, read through the transcript checking for typos and comparing the transcript with the image for missed lines etc. There is a spell checker on ABC√. When finished click "Ready for review".
Don’t forget to click SAVE at the end of a page and when you stop for a break and after any changes.
LOG OUT if that was your last page in the session.

Shortcut to work in progress
To save time scrolling through pages to find the last page worked on, click on MENU then SEARCH.  Enter item number, diary name (abbreviated) and the page number you want. E.g. item 02  bunberry  page 127

You do get better at reading a person’s handwriting so some words that you didn’t understand in the beginning will be readable as you go along. You can always go back and edit as you get to know the author’s idiosyncrasies.

Editor tools

Transcript toolbar icons




Strike Through

Toggle Bulleted List

Toggle Numbered List

Decrease Indent

Increase Indent






Transcript toolbar icons


Block Quote

Insert Horizontal Line




Paste as plain text

Paste from Word

Insert Special Character

Table Wizard

Maximize text area