Guide to Transcribing
This year’s project will be focused on the Correspondence of Frederick Douglass, held at the Library of Congress. While this new project will not be available until February 14, 2024, a preview of the site can be found at crowd.loc.gov.
All materials on this page are from the ByThePeople website.
Welcome to By the People! Help us transcribe Library of Congress documents. Volunteer-created transcriptions will be published on loc.gov to improve search, access, and discovery of these pages from history.
Documents are transcribed and reviewed by volunteers. Review ensures transcriptions are whole and accurate. It takes at least one volunteer to transcribe a page and at least one other volunteer to review and mark it complete. Some complex documents may pass through both transcription and review many times before they are accepted as complete.
Let’s get started!
- Read the instructions on transcribing and reviewing transcriptions by other volunteers. Get back to this guide and all other instructions by clicking “How-To” at the top of any page. See abbreviated instructions while transcribing by clicking “Quick Tips” below the viewer.
- Create an account — if you want! Anyone can transcribe without an account, but registered volunteers can also review and tag pages and track your work on a profile page. Make your account here.
- Choose what to transcribe. Explore our campaigns featuring many different Library of Congress collections. When you find a group of documents that looks interesting, click through to a page. To transcribe, look for one labeled “Not Started” or “In Progress”. Use the filters to narrow down to just those pages.
- Once you’ve chosen a page, transcribe what you can into the box on the right. Transcribe lines in the order they appear and preserve line breaks. If you see multiple pages, transcribe all of the content in the order it appears. Have questions about transcribing something tricky? Revisit “How to transcribe”.
- Try using the image viewer filters to make the text clearer. Activate them using the icon between full screen and flip. Use the three filters individually or combine them to adjust brightness, contrast, and invert image colors.
- Click “Save” as you go to save work in progress. If you decide a page isn’t for you, that’s ok! You can move on, just make sure you click “Save” before moving on. Other volunteers will be able to help out with a page you started.
- Click “Save” and “Submit for review” if you have transcribed a whole page and think it is ready to be reviewed. If you are transcribing anonymously (without being logged into an account) you will be prompted to verify you are not a bot.
- After you’ve transcribed a few pages, try out review! Review is the crucial final step before transcriptions are marked ready for publication. All registered volunteers can review other volunteers’ transcriptions. Learn more by reading How to review.
- Try out tagging. Tagging is an experimental feature. Read our tagging instructions then try it out on any page!
Have a question or comment about a campaign, page, or how By the People works? You have options:
- Read through our FAQ.
- Connect with our team and other volunteers in our discussion forum on History Hub.
- Send us a message via the Contact Us page.
How to Transcribe
This section explains the By the People transcription conventions. There are many ways to transcribe documents, and different crowdsourcing projects ask volunteers to transcribe in different ways.
Our primary goals are to improve the searchability, readability, and accessibility of these documents for people who use screen readers or other assistive technology. We also want to honor the creators’ historical reality by preserving the original spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The instructions were created with the Library website‘s search functionality in mind, and with the intention of making these pages a pleasure to hear aloud.
List of instructions (all links go to external LOC website)
- Text order
- Spelling and punctuation
- Blank pages
- Line breaks
- Illegible or unclear text
- Printed, typed, or newspaper text
- When not to transcribe printed text
- Non-English languages, characters, and translation
- Other special characters
- Long s or “funny” f
- Saving work in progress
How to Review
Review is the final vital step in our process. Once a page is accepted by a reviewer, it is ready to be published on the Library of Congress main website. Published transcriptions make these pages keyword searchable and improve accessibility for people who use adaptive technology including screen readers. Review is also great way to learn our transcription conventions and become familiar with reading handwriting.
Transcriptions are created by one or more volunteers. Volunteers submit a transcription when they feel they have captured all text correctly and want another person to check their work. A reviewer must read the entire transcription and carefully compare it to the document image, checking for accuracy and completeness. Before you start reviewing, read How to transcribe. These instructions explain how to transcribe line breaks, misspellings, and other features of the original documents, and what to ignore. While you review, you might want to keep the transcription instructions visible by printing them out or opening them in another browser window or tab.
Register to review
Find a page to review
Navigate through the Campaigns and use the filters to find pages to review. Click “Needs Review” to only see projects, items, and pages that need your reviewing help! Once you have reviewed a document and clicked “Accept” or “Edit”, you will be asked if you would like to review a new page, transcribe a new page, or add tags to the page you just reviewed. You can also look for review calls to action in the carousel on our homepage. Click “Let’s Go” and you may be sent directly to a page that needs review.
When to accept a transcription
If a transcription is accurate and you do not need to make any changes, click “Accept”. The page is now complete! You can no longer make edits, but you and other volunteers can still read the document and add tags.
Editing a transcription
If you find errors or missing text click “Edit”. You can then make the changes yourself or leave it open for another volunteer to edit. Remember, do not make changes to the spelling, grammar, word order or punctuation of the original document. Do correct any mistakes made by the transcriber or complete any words they could not read, which you can. Click “Save” as you go to save work in progress and “Submit” when you’re done. Another volunteer will still need to review the page. A page is complete when a reviewer clicks “Accept” without making changes.
Should I add line breaks?
Line breaks aid reviewers and other readers in comparing the transcription to the original lines of text. This is helpful because it allows reviewers and other readers to read across the transcription and image line-by-line. However, if the absence of line breaks is the only issue in a transcription, you do not need to add them. If you would like to, feel free!
Can I review my own transcriptions?
You cannot review transcriptions you submit unless someone else edits the page and again submits it for review.
Who can I ask for help while I’m reviewing?
Our History Hub discussion forum is a great place to ask for help from other volunteers and the By the People community managers. This is a moderated forum, so there can be a short delay between when you post and when your message appears. Search the existing posts and you may find that someone has already asked your question and received an answer. You’re always welcome to join the conversation!
How to Tag
Tags are primarily used as a method of communicating with other volunteers and capturing additional information about a particular page. Each completed campaign’s tags are also published as part of its bulk dataset on loc.gov.
You can add any tags you feel are appropriate, as long as you follow the Library’s comment policy.
Tag, you’re it!
To add a tag, type a word or words in the Tags box. Separate tags with a comma or click “Add” after each tag. Make sure you click “Save tags” before leaving a page you have tagged.
Ways to tag
Here are some ways you might consider tagging:
- Since transcriptions will be searchable on loc.gov and as datasets, it’s useful to tag a page with a word that isn’t included in the transcription text.
- Keep tags short, but use whole words instead of abbreviations. This will make it easier for other people to understand your tags and reuse them.
- If an important word in a document, such as somebody’s name, is spelled incorrectly, you can add a tag of the correct name.
- Sometimes writers use nicknames or code words. If you can correctly identify the full name or subject using contextual information, you can add it as a tag.
- Identify a document’s subject. For example, you may want to tag a page with the name of a battle it describes.
- Identify an interesting format. You may want to tag the language it’s written in, the type of document, or if it includes unique features such as “shorthand” or “cross-writing”.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When will the materials be available?
The Library of Congress ByThePeople platform will post a new campaign for the correspondence of Frederick Douglass on the morning of February 14, 2024.
We regret that this release timing is unable to be changed, though events at any time on the 14th or after will have access to all of the materials.
Do we need to sign up for accounts?
Accounts are not required—but they are highly recommended!
If you spend 30 seconds to create an account, you’ll have access to a variety of resources. You can post questions to our History Hub message board. You can save your favorites and even create special collections of materials you want to retrieve later.
Creating an account will also let you join in the process of reviewing existing transcriptions. A huge help!
What is a transcribe-a-thon?
A transcribe-a-thon is an event in which people gather in person or online to work at the same time on a crowdsourcing project.
Our main activity will be transcribing the words on a platform called Zooniverse. We’ll help transcribe all sorts of documents from the archives of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an important figure in Black women’s history who lived in both Canada and the US.
If it’s your first time transcribing, don’t fear! No experience is needed. The platform is very beginner friendly!
Who can join the transcribe-a-thon?
Anyone! All you need is an internet connection and a computer/laptop.
Do we need computers?
Yes, you need to have a laptop or tablet computer. We do not recommend transcribing on a mobile phone.
If you don’t have enough computers, it can be a lot of fun to transcribe with a partner!
What if I still need help?
Page too difficult to read? Refresh your browser to get a new page.
We encourage you to give each page a chance. The text can seem difficult to read at first. If you skim the whole page, you can start to recognize more and more parts and then you’re ready to start transcribing.
Or you can post on Twitter using the hashtag #DouglassDay.)
What happens to the results of our work?
After Douglass Day, the results of our transcriptions will need to be finished. Once complete, the full transcriptions will be made available on the website of the Library of Congress.