Different Hand Ltd

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


15 January 2018: an interesting project that we worked on is now being published. Wandering Grocer is postblogging the journals of William Whitehead, recording his journey around the world in 1898. We proofread and corrected the transcripts against images of the original journals, and created a new index.

24 August 2017: updated links, about and prices for transcription services.


Different Hand Ltd offers manuscript transcription, data entry and processing, XML markup, and correction of transcripts or OCR 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 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:

Outsourced Blind Double Keying is often preferred to this approach, but sometimes it isn't possible and it might not always be desirable. Any kind of double keying must always be at least one of the following:

It is impossible to avoid all of these problems at the same time. Affordable double-keying depends on exploiting low-paid workers in the Far East, who transcribe letter-by-letter without understanding the text. Paying a fair wage to skilled transcribers is expensive, and hiring them for double keying will double the cost for no more than a 1% increase in accuracy. Pressure to work faster increases errors. Cutting costs to the point where double keying is affordable may actually increase transcription errors in difficult handwritten texts.

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 errors, ensures high quality at a fair and affordable price. Our work is carried out in the UK.