Transcribing War Diaries - Best Practices?

Discussion in 'Unit History' started by LeeSteventon, Nov 15, 2012.

  1. LeeSteventon

    LeeSteventon Junior Member

    Dear All,

    I'm about to set on a wild and bumpy road of transcribing my grandfather's regimental war diaries (thanks to Andy for the images!) but want to get the opinions of the experts on here as to the best practices (if any) of doing so.

    As the vast majority must know, the diaries are written with a huge amount of abbreviations and short cuts for words (e.g. Bn. for Battalion).

    Part of me thinks that when transcribing war diaries we should stick to the original formatting and text in the diary as was written. That way, no assumptions are made as to what the author meant by any wording and the reader of the transcription is left to decide what was meant.

    However another part of me thinks that some abbreviations (like Bn. for example) obviously stand for Battalion and this would make reading the transcription much easier.

    I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of the forum on this.


  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Transcribe as it is.
    We all know what Bn means, for those that dont add a list of abbreviations.
  3. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron


    I'm doing this as you are asking the question and personally am expanding the abbreviations. Even when expanded, there are bound to be a lot of people who won't understand what they mean.:)

    Cheers - Rob
  4. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.


    Speaking as someone who has recently started a similarish project I would advise you to transcribe exactly what you see in front of you in the form you see in front of you. That will then be a transcription of the file. Any alterations you make in the text would, in my opinion make it an interpratation of the file.

    But like anything else like this it really is up to you to decide what serves your interests the best. :)
  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    I'm currently transcribing the Dec 1942 war diaries for three battalions and its Brigade HQ at the moment, and adding each preceding/succeeding month for a 70 year anniversary month by month guide. Only another 29 months to go...

    Some abbreviations can (and possibly should) be easily expanded, I feel, once you get the sense of a sentence eg: in my diaries "sp" = support, "tps" - troops, "Bg" = Brigadier etc. Some of the vernacular, though, isn't particularly 2012 friendly especially from North Africa and I think that issue has been discussed at some length previously - but there is an implied "sic" throughout the transcription.

    I'm posting both the original (daily event) diaries, and intelligence reports and their counterpart transcribed equivalents together -I'm clearly going to make typo errors and may mistake some facts but hopefully feedback will emerge to improve it over the months. Someone on here kindly posted an error thread that allowed me to correct something recently.. The first priority for me is getting a decent first cut transcription up on on the net.

    Just my house style..probably breaking a few "rules".

  6. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Lee - it depends who your audience is I would say. If abbreviations render the text unreadable by the intended reader, then you have to explain them and translate, or else the work of transcription is surely pointless. Good luck.
  7. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Transcribe it as was written, warts and all.

    If you are concerned about the reader not understanding an abbreviation, add a glossary at the end.
  8. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    I agree with Brian on this. If you're transcribing as a resource for historians then abbreviations don't need to be expanded upon but if you're doing it for the family and intending to give the elderly aunts a copy then you'll save yourself a lot of aggro if you put it in plain English now.
  9. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    I agree with Brian on this. If you're transcribing as a resource for historians then abbreviations don't need to be expanded upon but if you're doing it for the family and intending to give the elderly aunts a copy then you'll save yourself a lot of aggro if you put it in plain English now.

    Bang on Rich - I showed my dad a copy of his unit war diary when he was in his seventies and he didn't have a clue what some of it meant.
  10. I agree with both ways. I think it's important to transcribe the text exactly as it is, but also that it should be understood by its readers. So why not do both, first transcribing verbatim, with abbreviations, typos and all, then make a second version with abbreviations expanded and typos corrected. Using a standard word processing software makes this simple enough, by using the search and replace feature to expand the abbreviations, and the grammar/vocabulary check to correct typos. One word of caution though, it's safer to do such replacements one by one, i.e. clicking the "next" button rather than the "replace all" button which is certain to result in some funny but totally unwarranted corrections...

    When finding an obvious error or contradiction in the original text I leave it as is, but add right after it a note between square brackets. Notes clarifying certain obsure passages are also helpful for the lay reader. I believe it is essential that any variation from the original text, apart from expanding abbreviations and correcting typos, should be clearly identified as such.

  11. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    I tend to agree with Michel on this - anything other that a DIRECT transcription, typos included is in my opinion an INTERPRETATION.

    Not too difficult to do both as Michel describes.
  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    ;) I must be guilty as sin of bad/worst practice then for the transcripts I've placed on this forum have few of the commonest abbreviations. I really don't get too worried over 'interpretation' in these instances. If you read a diary do you actually think/say "pl" or platoon? Sgt or sergeant? Regt or regiment? Br or bridge? Xrds or crossroads? Arty or artillery? and so it goes on. Frankly I couldn't be bothered compiling/checking a glossary for each and every thread, or constantly referring any confused enquirers to abbreviations thread.

    Place names are often misspelt, so they get - Wrong [Correct]. If it's a very tiny and obvious error, again, I won't bother drawing the attention of the reader to eg BRUSELS [BRUSSELS]. If parts are illegible, I will fill gaps in words or sentences with the appropriate amount of qu??t?on m??ks and make suggestion [?question marks] as to what it probably is/might be.

    If there is any doubt about what was intended by meaning, or if something looks at all ambiguous, it gets typoed up ass is. [sic]

    Doing two versions, one for those not familiar with WDs, and one for those who prefer it au naturel, just wasn't an option in my case. But, I am not publishing a book, just putting stuff up to help some people mainly with family research.

    Anyway, I put the images - with appendices - up in Gallery and link it, so folks can have a look for themselves.
  13. Pylon1357

    Pylon1357 Junior Member

    I transcribed the Irish Regiment of Canada Diary. I copied it as I saw it, abbreviations and all. Anything that was confusing to readers I made footnotes.
  14. JulianMHall

    JulianMHall Junior Member


    Comparatively recently I transcribed the personal diary of a 4 RWF SWW officer, and as Pylon1357 says, I kept to exactly what he had written - date errors and misspellings included - which ensured the reader would know, for example, that within a couple of weeks of landing in France he was so tired he was writing the wrong month. To correct the errors I included footnotes, such as the correct date, or current location of a place he mentioned. I appreciate unit diaries are different, but in general I agree with the above comments to retain the original within the main text.

    Kind regards,

    Tolbooth and Chris C like this.
  15. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've done my best to produce a digital facsimile, but I'm not going to get obsessive about spacing and page count--readability is paramount.

    My test run was the 1 FD Regt R.A. at Cassino, but I've made a start on 1/4th Essex 1939-40 in the same style.

    This is what I turned out.

    From this:


    Notes and comments here:
    1 Fd Regt RA at Cassino - March 44

    Attached Files:

    Tolbooth and timuk like this.

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