imagining the edition's audience

13 Jun 2013

Posted by naomi

Trying to guess what future users of our critical edition will search for is not easy.

One of the tags we're using is the <choice> tag. In tandem with the <abbr> and <expan> tags, the <choice> tag allows us to show on the screen what Watkins actually wrote, while also coding the text with the full, spelled out word. This will allow searches of the online edition to be more comprehensive, as a search for any particular word or name will retrieve every instance of that word being used, even if it's abbreviated in Watkins's text. For example, if Watkins writes "Geo." when referring to his brother George, our tags will allow a user to retrieve instances of "Geo." using the search term of "George."

This is all well and good, but how do we decide which abbreviations to tag in order to make them searchable? Adding these strings of code to each abbreviation adds many lines of code and hours of time to the process, so we wanted to weigh up the likelihood of it being useful against the extra commitment from all involved in the project. Do we expand "Capt." to "Captain," "acc't" to account"? Could we imagine someone searching for these words? And if so, how do we draw that line between worth tagging and not worth tagging? Watkins nearly always abbreviates his dates: should we expand "Tues" to "Tuesday"? Would someone one day want to search for something as mundane as the day of the week?

The fact is we don't know what people may one day search for in Watkins's diary, and it's not our place to make those decisions. If our online edition is supposed to be fully searchable, then it needs to be exactly that -- fully searchable. With that in mind, we've now amended our transcription policy to tag every abbreviation. This has the knock on effect of making a single dateline take up almost two lines of coding, but it'll be worth it when someone decides to trace the patterns of theatrical activity on Tuesdays...