Different Hand Ltd

Historical manuscript transcription, XML markup, data cleaning/processing, research assistance.


24 October 2016: site updated with more details of our data cleaning services.

9 February 2016: We are now offering book indexing. Free consultations are still available.


Different Hand Ltd offers manuscript transcription, data entry and processing, XML markup, quality assurance, OCR correction, document copying, and research assistance for historical research and digitisation projects. We specialise in documents that are not suitable for outsourced double keying or automated recognition software, particularly early-modern English manuscripts. Since launching in November 2013, we have successfully completed contracts for clients in the UK and US.

Our services are aimed at research institutions and we can also supply services to other businesses. We do not usually work for private individuals. We are based in the UK but can work with overseas clients and take payment in US dollars or other currencies. We always negotiate a fixed price for a contract, not an hourly rate. We can do jobs that are too big to do yourself but too small to justify taking on an employee.

Our Working Methods

We call our approach to transcription Careful Expert Single Keying. This means:

Double keying is often preferred to this approach when possible, but sometimes it isn't possible. Outsourced Blind Double Keying has been proved to achieve 99.99% accuracy for 19th century German printed texts, and can be more cost-effective than Optical Character Recognition, although accuracy drops with texts that are older or in poor condition. Non-native speakers are able to transcribe printed text letter by letter, but this technique is less effective for cursive script. Early-modern secretary hand contains unusual letter forms and abbreviation marks, and sometimes ambiguous letters have to be inferred from context. People who can transcribe 16th- and 17th-century documents at 99% accuracy are rare and valuable. Most projects cannot afford to double the cost for a 1% increase in accuracy. Cutting the costs to the point where double keying is affordable may actually increase transcription errors in difficult handwritten texts. Balancing the cost and quality of double keying is likely to depend on exploiting low-paid workers in the Far East. Any kind of double keying is always likely to be at least one of the following:

Double keying is not always necessary to get high quality transcripts. Shannon's information theory says that speed and redundancy both affect the accuracy of transmission. Advocates of double keying tend to privilege redundancy but we compensate for a lack of redundancy by reducing the speed. We also take meaning into account, which gives greater accuracy than letter-by-letter keying by non-native speakers who are trained to see documents purely as information.

Our Careful Expert Single Keying, followed by rigorous manual and automated checks to trap any errors, ensures high quality at a fair and affordable price. Our work is carried out in the UK.