Transcribe Douglass: Quick Start

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

Download the Quick Start Guide pdf or Google doc. View detailed instructions on

Get Started

Welcome to By the People! Help us transcribe Library of Congress documents. Volunteer-created transcriptions will be published on 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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

“Get Started” instructions above are from the ByThePeople website.

Quick Guide to Transcribing

  1. Click on the <Not Started> or <In Progress> filters to show documents that still need to be transcribed.
  2. Click on an image to open a group of documents.
  3. Click on a document to select a page and open the transcription interface.
  4. Transcribe what you can into the box on the right. 
  5. Click “Save” periodically to save your work in progress.
  6. Click “Submit for Review” when you finish transcribing.

Good to Know

  • It is okay to make a guess if you’re unsure about something. It is also okay to partially transcribe a page. Every contribution helps!
  • Change your mind about a page? Use your browser’s back button and select a different group of pages. But first, click “Save” so that others can pick up where you left off!
  • While transcribing work from left to right, top to bottom.
  • Preserve original spelling, abbreviations, capitals, and line breaks. Include all titles and page numbers.
  • Ignore formatting (such as italics, bold, underlining, indents).
  • Access detailed instructions by clicking the “How To” dropdown at the top of any page. Find abbreviated instructions by clicking “Quick Tips” below the transcription box.

Quick Guide to Reviewing

  1. If not already registered, create an account by clicking “register” in the top right corner. 
  2. Click the <Needs Review> filter to show documents that need reviewing.
  3. Click on an image to open a group of documents.
  4. Click on a document to select a page and open the transcription interface.
  5. Compare the page carefully to the transcription.
    1. If the transcription is accurate and you do not need to make any changes, click the “Accept” button to mark the page as complete. 
    2. If it is not correct, click “Edit.” Correct any mistakes made by the transcriber or complete any words they could not read, which you can.
    3. Be sure to click “Save” periodically, and then click “Submit” when you are done. (The page will be reviewed and approved by another volunteer.)

Good to Know

  • You cannot review your own work.
  • Change your mind about a page? Use your browser’s back button and select a different group of pages. But first, click “Save” so that others can pick up where you left off!
  • Access detailed instructions at any time by clicking the “How To” dropdown at the top of any page. You can also see abbreviated instructions while transcribing by clicking “Quick Tips” below the transcription box.

Additional Features


Tagging is a way to help people search for items within By the People by providing additional information about a page.

  • If not already registered, create an account by clicking “register” in the top right corner. 
  • To enter tags, simply type a word or words in the Tags box, separating them with a comma or clicking “Add” after each tag.
  • Make sure you click “Save tags” before leaving a page you have tagged.

Good to Know

You might use tags to

  • Provide a correct spelling for a misspelling in the original document. For example, if someone wrote Fredrick Douglass in the original document. Transcribe as ‘Frederick Douglass,’ and tag ‘Frederick Douglass.’
  • To identify nicknames or code words. If you recognize someone using a nickname for Frederick Douglass, you might tag the document with “Frederick Douglass” to signal that that is who the nickname is referencing.
  • To tag documents that mention the same things. If you’re interested in letters from Frederick Douglass’s son, you could tag any documents that reference him with the tag “son.”
  • Remember to keep tags as short as possible and use whole words instead of abbreviations. This will make it easier for other people to understand your tags and to reuse them elsewhere in the collection.
  • Access detailed instructions at any time by clicking the “How To” dropdown at the top of any page. 

OCR (Optical Text Recognition)

Optical Text Recognition is used to recognize text in scanned documents and images and convert it to machine readable text. For various reasons, OCR may not successfully convert documents in this collection. You are welcome to try OCR, but be sure to check the outcome and correct any errors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The chart below addresses some common questions you may have while transcribing.

MisspellingsType what you see. Do not edit or correct. Keep the author’s original spelling, grammar, and punctuation.Do not expand abbreviations.To leave notes, use the TAG function.
Illegible or unreadable textUse [?] for unreadable words 
If you can read some letters in the word, transcribe those in the brackets.
I have [?] loved coffee ice cream
I have [a?????] loved coffee ice cream
InsertionsFor text inserted or added later:Type it in the order you would read it aloud. If it’s part of a sentence, bring it down into the line.were endowed by nature with the same qualities
DeletionsUse brackets around deleted textIf you can read crossed out or otherwise deleted text, transcribe the deleted words inside a pair of brackets.It was [difficult] hard to believe
Line breaksMatch the line breaks; do not hyphenate wordsHit “enter” at the end of a line of text to preserve original line breaks.
If there is more than one page in an image, you can use two hard returns [hit “enter” twice] to leave space between pages.
When words are broken across lines, keep the word together on the first line. See example.
the last moment as it were andalmost immediately was presentedto the President for his
EmphasisDo not styleEven when you see bold, italic, underlined or superscript text, transcribe it without any individual glory
Text in MarginsUse a square brackets and asterisks [* *] around marginalia text and order it within the transcription where it makes the most sense (or at the end of the transcription if it appears unrelated). I have always loved coffee ice cream. Last summer I made my own. [*In 2017, Brazil was the largest coffee producing country*]
ImagesDon’t describe images or other visual elements within the transcription box. If you would like to describe images, watermarks, stamps, or any other non-text features, use the tagging function. 
Blank Pages and ImagesUse the “Nothing to Transcribe” box for blank pages, images or printed templates
FAQ by Library of Congress. Modified by Lauren Cooper & Summer L. Hamilton.

How to Get Additional Help

If you have a question or comment about how By the People works, or about a Campaign, item or page, connect with the By the People team and other volunteers on History Hub, a public online forum where everyone can join in the discussion. Anyone can view existing posts on History Hub, however, in order to communicate with other volunteers or ask questions to By the People, you will need to create an account, which you can do by clicking “Register” in the upper right hand corner of the site. Note that this account is completely separate from your By the People account.

If you would prefer to email a Community Manager, send By the People a message on their Contact Us page. You can also tweet questions or interesting finds to @Crowd_LOC.

If you want to contact the Douglass Day team with questions or interesting finds, tweet to @DouglassDayorg or use #DouglassDay.

You may also view tutorial videos made to help new users.The following videos are available on the Douglass Day YouTube channel: