Handwriting: General notes

This guide is chiefly intended to cover the encoding of printed materials, but such sources frequently include handwriting of various sorts, whether in the form of deliberate annotations of the content of the document, as revisions or corrections, or as separate (possibly unrelated) inscriptions on a blank area. Since the latter may sometimes be extensive, we cover here some of the basic provisions for encoding handwriting. However, detailed coverage of encoding manuscript documents is beyond the scope of this guide.

The TEI provides elements for encoding manuscript modifications to a printed page, and also provides methods for describing the manuscript marks in detail. Manuscript modifications to a printed page are treated as being one of two types: additions and deletions. These may be combined as needed to express more complex patterns of substitution and revision.


Deletions are a less varied phenomenon, simply because they are always in some direct relation to the text (in other words, they express the intention of altering it). However, the extent of the deletion may be difficult to determine, and its presence may also complicate other issues such as the legibility of the deleted text.

Brief deletions are encoded using the del element, which (like add) may nest inside of paragraph-level textual features. It is typically used for deletions which are not structurally complex; its permitted contents are more limited than those of add, and it may not contain features such as tables, poems, quotations, or paragraphs. It is essentially for marking the deletion of words and phrases.

Longer deletions, or those which span an element boundary, are encoded by marking the endpoints with empty elements. The start of the deletion is encoded with delSpan, and the endpoint is marked with an anchor element. The delSpan element points to the anchor, thereby embracing between them the extent of the deletion. For more information on encoding deletions, see Handwriting: Additions and deletions.