War Diary Transcription - Standards?

Dear Editor;

In order to review the war diaries of Canadian units in the First World War, one often needs to convert the hand-written or typescript image copies into a more legible form for further analysis. It's a rather laborious process and not one that I'd like to have to repeat. So; I'd like to ask your opinion on whether a rigorous adherence to "classical" transcription guidelines is really warranted given the following circumstances.

I've found that many seem to feel that all documents should be transcribed; faithfully representing all aspects of the original to the extent that it is possible. However; I am finding that war diaries do not really lend themselves to such a rigorous approach and I'm not sure that, in this case, it is pragmatic.

Individual War Diary entries are usually terse, written in a variety of grammatical styles and visual layouts. Typescripts often use punctuation, such as the period, to separate words rather than end sentences. Words are, on occasion, conjoined or arbitrarily split. The net result of a "classical" transcription would be to faithfully record the content of the page, but would do little to promote later searching and analysis of the rather extensive content. In fact; it could cause more issues than it solves. One actually needs to study each entry to understand the intent of the writer.

Would it be reasonable to slightly relax the transcription approach to allow correction of those issues that reduce the legibility of the material ... and only when the intent is clear? I've noticed many archives taking this approach to similar types of records.

In a technical sense the resulting document would lie somewhere between a transcription and an extraction, leaning more towards a transcription. This could actually reduce mistakes in constructing an overall timeline and also enhance the ability to electronically search the material.

Submitted byEEon Fri, 01/15/2021 - 14:40

Yes, of course, it's "reasonable to ... relax the transcription approach .... when the intent is clear." Researchers working with this kind of material usually extract portions that are relevant, being careful to apply editorial conventions such as ellipses and editorial brackets around additions, interpretations, or alterations—both words and punctuation. Our readers should be aware of where we left out material or could not read the original.