Encoding Guide for Early Printed Books

documentation schema


Documentation is arguably the most important part of any text encoding project, and the most neglected. There is a natural human tendency to make decisions and take action first, and write down the results later, which is reinforced in the world of digital projects by the need to show progress to funders and readers. In a world of scarce resources, it is arguably more important to digitize additional texts than to spend the funds on writing about how one did it. However, for text encoding projects of the kind that we are considering in this guide, there are several crucial differences that shift the balance. First, most scholarly text encoding projects are producing materials for which the methodology is arguably as important as the content. In order to be useful and credible, scholarly research tools must declare the probity of their methods and must be able to prove that they have carried them out systematically. Without information on how a text was transcribed and edited, a researcher may be unable to determine its value or interpret its contents. The significance of a search may be profoundly altered by whether personal names are being distinguished from place names automatically or by a human encoder.

Secondly, the value of scholarly text collections depends on their consistency of approach. However, most scholarly text encoding projects are complex, long-term undertakings involving more than one person. If they endure for more than one year, they are very likely to employ a sequence of people, many of them students working for a year or a few months. Without documentation, it is nearly impossible to ensure that the transcription and encoding will be done consistently over time. An investment of effort in documenting your practices will save multiples of that effort spent redoing misdirected work. The effect on morale is immense; work involved in discovering error is burdensome and difficult, and the knowledge that problems could have been avoided is really miserable.

Finally, scholarly projects (particularly at this early stage of the digital domain) are inevitably setting precedents for each other, and learning things that may advance our understanding of how digital work is done. By documenting your ideas and practices, you transform the value of your work into something more public, and you also enable others to provide you with unexpected advice.

We recommend documenting the following areas of your work, in as much detail as you can afford.