Minimum Standards for Electronic Editions

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Approved: October 2002

Defining Electronic Editions

Simply rendering a text in electronic form does not constitute an electronic edition. The ADE-CES defines an electronic edition as primary source material prepared with 1) rigorous attention to the text, 2) explanatory annotation and 3) an explanation of the editorial practices used on the texts. There can be an enormous range of practice within the field of documentary editing, but all share these main goals. Electronic editions require the same burden of scholarship as print and microform publications do, and because of their format, additional issues must be considered.

Editors should keep in mind that publishing an electronic edition on the World Wide Web makes it available to a variety of audiences ranging from children to scholars. While the editor may wish to address a non-scholarly audience by including additional contextual material to make the edition more useful to younger readers, the first responsibility of the editor is to provide a good and accurate text, in all its complexity.

 Minimum Standards for Electronic Editions:

Transcription and Digitization

The primary function of the editor is to provide accurate documents to the reader, whether in the form of transcribed text or digitized images. Texts in electronic editions must be carefully transcribed and proofread to ensure that they are accurate, and the use of editorial conventions to render complex text must be consistently used throughout the edition. Clear distinctions must be made between editorial insertions and the original text. When documents are presented electronically in image format, the same care must be taken to insure that they are legible and accurate depictions of the original. When images are used as the basis of an electronic edition, editors must provide general information about the process, including any manipulation of brightness or contrast to improve legibility. If extensive image editing is done for clarity, editors ought provide more detailed information about the process or make available an un-edited version in addition to the altered one.

Editors should include a brief explanation of the methods used to digitize the texts (scanning, OCR, manual transcription, etc.) and include a discussion of the decisions made regarding the rendering of missing or illegible text, typographical errors, misspellings, strikeouts, insertion and margin notes, as well as distinctions between handwritten and typed text, and additions made to documents at a later date.

Selection and Source Notes

The extent of the collection(s) from which the texts are drawn should be outlined, whether a single diary, collection of papers, or a larger subject-driven compilation. Editor must make clear whether the electronic edition is comprehensive (including all documents in the original collection) or selective. If selective, editors must outline the scope of the selected material (estimates on the percentages included) and the criteria by which documents were selected. For each document, editors should include any relevant information about where the original manuscript as well as other print or microform editions can be located in the form of a source note.


Whether it takes the form of introductory essays, head, end or footnotes, biographical directories or glossaries, or indexes, annotation enables the editor to provide context for the document to help in its understanding. It is also critical that editors distinguish between text supplied by the editors (including head notes, end notes, supplied words, etc.) and the text itself.

An issue of particular importance to electronic editions, is that of revisions to annotation and transcriptions. One of the advantages of electronic editions is the ability to correct or add to the edition without having to reissue the entire text. But because readers rely upon editions and cite them in their own scholarly work, editors must be careful to alert readers to places where emendations and corrections have been made. The use of encoding to identify emendations is advised.

Editors should provide a general statement about the kinds of annotation provided in the edition alerting readers to the kinds of assistance they can expect to find. Citations should be consistently used throughout the edition. Because electronic editions are more likely to be accessed by readers who may not enter through the front door, the use of abbreviations for individual’s names or sources should be limited, or the editor should provide ready access to keys to these abbreviations.

Access to the Edition

Because raw-text searching is of only limited use, editors are encouraged to supplement text searches by the use of indexes, lemmatization, concordances, and/or thesaurus, as determined by the goals of the edition. Guidelines to the use of these tools should be provided in the edition.

If text-searching is made available in the edition, editors ought include a discussion of how transcription policy interacts with searching. Some examples would include how misspellings or abbreviations in the text might affect the ability of a reader to locate all relevant matches.

Editors should include a description of the SGML/XML tags used in the edition, or provide information about the methods used to tag documents (for example, if the MEP system is used), and provide details about any variant usages for tags. This is especially important if the edition allows the reader to search for text located within specific tags.

© 2002 Association for Documentary Editing /Cathy Moran Hajo

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