Contributing Guide

While transcribing the letters in this collection, it’s critical that we maintain a consistent style, not just in prose, but also in formatting and metadata. Only if all letters follow the same format will we be able to work them into the website in a way that will allow people to find what they are looking for.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send Caleb an email at

Table of Contents

  1. Research Tools
  2. Files and Organization
  3. Syntax
    1. Paragraphs
    2. Underlined Text/Italics
    3. Links
    4. Images
    5. Footnotes
  4. Metadata
  5. Grammar and Spelling
  6. Transcribing Your First Letter

Research Tools

When you are writing footnotes or transcribing a letter, here’s a list of websites to check into:

Files and Organization

We will be using Markdown as the file format for the letters. A Markdown file is simply a plain text file (.txt). The big advantage to using Markdown is that is has a “syntax” of sorts that allows you to to create links, stylize text, and create footnotes. It’s very, very simple (there is a guide to the syntax below).

The name of the file should reflect the date of the letter you are transcribing in the format of YYYY-MM-DD. For example, if the letter was written on the 5th of August, 1863, the name of the text file would be 1863-08-05.txt.

In the shared Dropbox folder, you will notice that there are six folders:

  1. Under Transcription
  2. Adding Footnotes
  3. Proofreading
  4. Ready To Publish
  5. Published
  6. Resources

When you first start on a letter, you should have the text file in the “Under Transcription” folder. Once you’ve done all you can, including adding your own footnotes if you want, move it to the “Adding Footnotes” folder. This will let others know that they can add their own footnotes to the letter. Once that is done, Caleb will move the letter into the “Proofreading” folder, where our proofreaders (Nicole and Patricia) will make sure that everything looks fine. Finally, the letter will be moved into the “Ready To Publish” folder, where it will wait until it has been published on the website, when it will be moved into the “Published” folder.

IMPORTANT: The “Published” folder is immediately synced with the live website - please don’t edit any of the files in that folder or you may break the website. If you want to make an edit to a live letter, please email Caleb.

Also important: due to different text formatting systems, if you use a Windows computer please open/author the letters in Wordpad, not Notepad. Just make sure you save them as .txt files.

The “Resources” folder is for any images that you want to include with the letter - see the image section below for more details.


“Markdown” is a very simple syntax that is very easy to read, write, and yet is very computer-friendly. If you know how to write english, you already know how to write Markdown. Also, remember that Caleb will be proofing every letter before it goes up on the website, so don’t worry about making mistakes, he will catch them.


Separate paragraphs with two clicks on the “enter” key on your keyboard, just like you’ve always done.

Ooh, I'm a paragraph!

Hey, me too!

Underlined Text/Italics

Often, you will find a section in a letter where the author underlined the text to draw importance to it. On the web, underlines denote links, not emphasis, so instead we will italicize that text. To do that, wrap the text in asterisks: *this text will be italic*.

Links are very easy to add in Markdown. Here’s an example:

Caroline describes this in more detail in [her letter of the 21st of September](/letters/1862-09-21).

In this case, it will link the text her letter of the 21st of September to the letter written on September 21st, 1862 (that is what the (1862-09-21) means).

You can also link to other websites by using the same format by changing the value in the parentheses to the full URL:



Images are a little more complicated, so Caleb will manage this part. Simply drop the image you want to use into the “Resources” folder in Dropbox and email Caleb and let him know where you want the image to be in the letter.


Whenever you know information that may lend some background to the circumstances in a letter, create a footnote. If there is more than one paragraph in the footnote, you must indent them with four spaces. For example:

This is some text with a footnote[^1].
Ooh, another footnote[^2].

[^1]: And here is the definition.
[^2]: A definition for the second footnote.

    Oh, and now there is a second paragraph for the second footnote!

The footnotes should always be placed at the very end of the file.


If you are quoting blocks of text in your footnote, you can start the line with > to denote the quote. However, you need to make sure you indent it with four spaces if it is in a footnote.

Yoda is small and green[^1].

[^1]: According to Wikipedia:
    > Green is a color on the spectrum of visible light, located between blue and yellow.


At the top of each text file, place this block of text:

- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -
- - - -

This will hold all the data about the letter that isn’t actually in the letter itself. Click on the links below to learn how to fill these in:

  1. Title
  2. Transcriber
  3. Date
  4. Author
  5. Date Authored
  6. Location
  7. Medium
  8. Description
  9. Tags
  10. Pullquote
  11. Text


This will be the name of the blog post and consists of the date of the letter’s authorship in the following format:

Title: September 23rd, 1863


The first and last name of the transcriber (you).

Transcriber: Caleb Grove


Leave this empty - it will be the date that the post is published on the website.


The first and last name of the person who wrote the letter. Ignore maiden names, but include middle names if known. Here’s two common examples:

Author: Cecil Burleigh
Author: Caroline Burleigh

Date Authored

The authorship date of the letter in the yyyy-mm-dd format:

Dateauthored: 1864-04-23


The location of the letter’s authorship. Be careful, sometimes two letters written from the same location will use slightly different location names. If this is so, and you have good reason to believe that they were written from the same place, use the location name of the earliest letter written from that location. Include the state whenever possible, and spell out the state’s name.

Location: Camp Chase, Ohio


The medium of the letter. This is a comma-separated list that contains all mediums that were used for the letter. Do not capitalize.

Medium: plain paper, pencil

Here’s a list of common values for this:


This is a brief (one sentence long) description of the letter’s content.

Description: Caroline writes to Cecil about her efforts to sell their horse and visiting with her relatives.


A comma-separated list of keywords used the describe the topics in the letter. Do not capitalize.

Tags: winter, marching, tactics, politics, home life


Leave this empty.


This is the actual text of the letter. Feel free to leave a blank line or two between the text: line and the actual text – it won’t hurt anything.


With much gusto, Fred chased the chicken around the barnyard.

Grammar and Spelling

Over the years, spelling and grammar rules have evolved. The purpose of this project is to make the letters easily searchable and readable. Sometimes, this means we will need to correct spelling and grammar errors. If a reader wants to examine the original grammar and spelling, they can access the PDF of the letter using the library’s system.

As for grammar, some corrections are needed to make the letters readable. Feel free to use commas, periods, and other punctuation where they are needed to make the letters more understandable.

Also, you will need to create paragraphs - the letters are typically written in one long meandering statement, and don’t have paragraph breaks.

Correct all spelling errors. If you are unsure of what a word is, enter your best guess in {curly brackets}. During the proofreading process, we’ll do our best to solve it.

If a word is needed to make a sentence understandable, put the word in brackets:

We have [been] at the Dickerman's place.

Military Specifics

Capitalize military rank only if any of the below apply:

Only shorten the rank title if it’s used in conjunction with the name:

Transcribing Your First Letter

Phew, you’ve made it this far! It’s time to really get to work, let’s transcribe a letter.

  1. Find an untranscribed letter in the Letters List.txt file.
  2. Open the link to the letters in your browser.
  3. Click on the icon underneath the year that you want to work on (we will be working chronologically starting in 1862).
  4. Select the letter you want to transcribe from the sidebar and wait for it to load (it may take several minutes to load and appear).
  5. Open the Dropbox folder and duplicate the “template.txt” file in the “Under Transcription” folder. Rename your duplicated file properly!
  6. Fill in all the metadata fields you can (some will have to wait until you can actually read your transcription).
  7. Transcribe the letter! Remember, go ahead and do minor grammar and spelling corrections if they will make it more readable.
  8. Add your footnotes if you are so inclined.
  9. Finish up any metadata fields you couldn’t fill earlier.
  10. Move the file into the “Proofing” folder. Caleb will proofread it and add his own notes, as well as fix any accidental formatting mistakes.
  11. Check the box next to the letter’s date in the “Letter List.txt” file.
  12. Done!