Ditto to you!
Perhaps the third most frequent question that we get on Measuring the ANZACs Talk (check it out and join the conversation) is “How do you want us to deal with ditto marks?” Just in case you don’t know what a ditto mark is, it’s the quotation mark (“) or series of quotation marks (” ” ” “) that indicate the entry for a particular line is the same as the one above it. In this image there are a series of ditto marks for rank, indicating that our subject, Stewart Litchfield, stayed a private from January 1918 to March 1919.
This is a great question, and in posing it our citizen scientists have recognized some of the challenges and tensions in creating accurate, structured data that still reflects the original sources.
One principal of transcription that we ask you to adhere to and promote is “Type what you see.” Don’t make editorial judgments. Spelling mistakes are interesting in the original sources. Although the research team is first and foremost interested in measuring the ANZACs—how tall were they, what did they weigh, what did they die of, what were their jobs—we know that we’re collecting a large amount of text that will give incredible insights into language in everyday use in the early twentieth century.
One way that spelling mistakes and abbreviations are interesting is in indicating what was common enough to be abbreviated. It’s interesting to know if men with names that could have a diminutive used those names. Did James call himself Jim when he enlisted? Did William call himself Bill? Type what you see.
Ditto marks are a challenge to that principle, because they introduce the potential for error into the data we’re creating. When we have all the data entered for all the fields (read this, then go transcribe, and tell your friends to transcribe) the ditto marks won’t be a problem. We’ll sort the data here by date (we can also sort it by the X-Y co-ordinates of the marks which are recorded in the database) and then we’ll see a ditto in the Rank field. It’s quite straightforward in a statistical package because this is a common problem in lots of situations in data analysis (if you’re curious, follow this link).
But your questions get at the potential for error. What if a row is missed and the ditto marks end up being replaced by the wrong original entry? This is a real concern.
Thus, when you come across a ditto mark we’d like it if you entered what the text is indicated to be. Look up the column, and find the original entry, and enter that. This is, after all, what the ditto mark is indicating “This entry in row n is what’s written in row n-1“.
So, the instructions here differ a little from the strict “type what you see” dictum that we otherwise want our citizen scientists to adhere to. But typing in the real thing and not the ditto mark is good practice in historical social science. Overall it reduces the possibilities of errors in the data we’re creating. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your contributions to Measuring the ANZACs!