Dr Gavin Robinson: Manuscript Transcription and Data Services

Last updated: 1 July 2024. I am now available indefinitely for jobs of any size. I can always give free advice and estimates to help with project planning and funding applications. I will not work for or give advice to Goldsmiths, University of London during the new UCU boycott, which started on 3 June 2024.


I offer high quality historical manuscript transcription services at volumes and prices appropriate for large academic projects. I have over 25 years' experience of palaeography from my own academic research, and have been doing professional manuscript transcription work for 15 years. Some of this work has been published at British History Online. I specialize in transcription of English language documents from the 16th century onwards, and can also extract data from formulaic Latin documents. See the headings below for more details of services and prices, and published examples of my work. I can give free advice and estimates to help with project planning and funding applications, with no obligation to use my services if the application is successful. I am based in the UK but often work for overseas clients, especially in the US. Most of my work is for organizations, but I can also work for private individuals.

Historical Manuscript Transcription, XML Markup, and Data Entry

I can deliver very accurate full text transcripts of historical manuscripts according to any transcription conventions you specify. I can often expand abbreviations if required. Transcripts can be delivered as plain text, word processor files, or XML. Markup can include the structure of the text, named entities, and dates. I am familiar with TEI P5.

Marking up names is very easy to do during first pass transcription and will add very little time. Manually marking up names later is more labour-intensive, and Named Entity Recognition software is likely to be less accurate than a skilled and experienced transcriber. Even in a plain text transcript, names can be marked up with XML tags or simple markup like wikilinks.

I can also enter structured data into a spreadsheet, database, or XML file. This is easiest to do if the original document is already structured, but I can also extract structured data from unstructured or semi-structured documents.

You will have to supply digital images of the pages to be transcribed, and get copyright clearance if necessary. High quality images are easier to use, but I can deal with whatever you've got, even if it's too difficult for HTR/OCR software or unskilled double keyers.

Other Data Services

I can also offer these services:

Quality assurance and control

All transcribers inevitably make errors but I use the following methods to reduce the risk of making errors during transcription and to find and correct errors after transcription:

I do not use double keying, because it is always likely to be at least one of:

Trying to fix one of these problems will inevitably make one of the others worse. Double keying is fundamentally flawed and should be avoided.

Prices and timescales

I now charge an hourly rate, which will be fixed before the work commences. The rate will be negotiated according to the size of the job, the amount of skill required, and your project's budget. I am more likely to accept a lower rate for a larger contract that guarantees work for longer. Very small jobs for private individuals will be charged at higher rates. Before commencement, we must have a project plan in place that specifies what is to be delivered by when, and a maximum number of hours to be worked. I will work until I have completed the agreed tasks or the maximum hours, whichever is sooner.

Prices are subject to change in future because of inflation and exchange rates, but once we have agreed an hourly rate in a contract, it will not change. The contract and invoice will state the price in your own currency, so you will not be at risk from changes in the exchange rate. Typical current hourly rates are shown below:

Currency Minimum Maximum
GBP £15 £25
USD $19 $32
AUD $29 $49
EUR €18 €30

Text mining and smooth reading will be included free of charge because these are effectively finding and correcting errors that I have already made.

I expect to average around 1,000 words per hour including the second pass, although this will vary according to the difficulty of the handwriting and quality of images. If I find the documents particularly easy to read, I may get up to 1,200 words per hour. I can commit to up to 25 hours per week. For documents with 250-300 words per page, this would mean about 4 pages per hour, or 100 pages per week. I could transcribe 1 million words in 1 year or less. Text mining and smooth reading will add some extra time but no extra cost.

Examples of my work

The identities of my clients and the work I do for them are kept confidential by default, but these clients have chosen to credit me on their websites or social media. These examples show that I am capable of producing high quality work suitable for academic research and publication within the budgets of AHRC and ESRC grants.