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Transcription is the act of producing a copy of a text as it is found in an original document, whether printed or written. Paleographers and catalogers both use the term "transcription" to describe a component of their work, but there are significant differences between those spheres of practice.


Please see the main Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) page to learn more about paleographic transcription. For transcriptions of Folger manuscripts in Folgerpedia, see the Transcriptions category page.


The cataloging world draws an important distinction between "record" and "transcribe".

Recording information from an item means that the information may appear in a different form in the catalog record than on the item: words may be abbreviated, abbreviations may be expanded, "filler" words may be left out, additional words may be added to clarify, spelling may be corrected, etc. This ensures that accurate information about the item in hand is included in the catalog, but may not be as useful to scholars and librarians whose work depends on knowing the exact form of a word in the title, for instance.
Transcribing information from an item means that the information appears in the catalog record exactly, or as nearly as possible, as it appears on the item: misspellings and found capitalization are retained, "filler" words are included, and any clarifying information or corrections are added as a separate note. Transcription is especially emphasized in the rare book cataloging community.

The Descriptive Cataloging for Rare Materials (DCRM) standard, used for most vault materials, requires catalogers to transcribe many elements of the catalog record, and lays out guidelines for transcribing information. The Resource Description and Access (RDA) standard, used for modern materials, incorporates transcription more heavily than its predecessor AACR2, but does not require it for many elements.

Folger practice: When describing provenance information about an item, such as inscriptions or annotations by previous owners, follow DCRM transcription guidelines (DCRM(B) section 0G6.2, is reproduced below) for all Vault materials, regardless of time period.

0G6.2. Conjectural and indecipherable text

Indicate a conjectural interpolation by adding a question mark immediately after the interpolation, within the square brackets. Supply a question mark enclosed in square brackets for each indeterminable word or portion of word. Make a note to justify the interpolations, provide explanations, or offer tentative readings of indecipherable portions of text, if considered important.

(Comment: The symbol of contraction at the end of the word cannot be determined)
El[speth?] [?] McWhorter
(Comment: An autograph with some conjectured letters in the forename and an indecipherable middle initial, transcribed in a local note)

0G6.3. Lacunae in imperfect copies

If the description is based on an imperfect copy (see 0B2.2), use the mark of omission enclosed in square brackets ([...]) to show lacunae in the resource.

En Barcelo[na] : Por Sebastian Mateu[...]
Note: Description based on an imperfect copy; title page torn with partial loss of imprint

0G6.4. Blank spaces

If transcribing text containing a blank space intended to be completed in manuscript, as is common in forms and certain government documents, supply the word “blank” enclosed in square brackets. If the blank has been completed in the item being described, indicate this in a local note, if considered important.

A catalogue of books, to be sold on [blank] the [blank] day of February, 1755 ... 
Optional local note: Library's copy has date of auction supplied in manuscript: [Wednesday] the [26th] day of February, 1755