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Editorial Method

The goal of the Joseph Smith Papers Project is to present verbatim transcripts of Joseph Smith’s papers in their entirety, making available the most essential sources of Smith’s life and work and preserving the content of aging manuscripts from damage or loss. The papers include documents that were created by Joseph Smith, whether written or dictated by him or created by others under his direction, or that were owned by Smith, that is, received by him and kept in his office (as with incoming correspondence). Under these criteria—authorship and ownership—the project intends to publish every extant Joseph Smith document to which its editors can obtain access. All documents will be calendared and published in their entirety online, and a significant number of the documents will also be published in print.

Print and Web Editions

At present, it is contemplated that the print edition of The Joseph Smith Papers will consist of about twenty volumes, divided into five series: Documents (twelve volumes), Journals (three volumes), Revelations and Translations (three volumes), Histories (two volumes), and Legal and Business Records (one volume). All of the papers included in these printed works will also be published on this website at some point, with the annotation that appeared in print. It is contemplated that this website will include the following additional material not available in the print edition: as part of the Histories series, the entire multivolume manuscript history of Joseph Smith (later edited and published as History of the Church); as part of the Documents series, a number of certificates and other routine documents only samples of which will be included in print; as part of the Legal and Business Records series, the equivalent of about two additional volumes’ worth of material not included in print; as part of the Revelations and Translations series, Joseph Smith's Bible revision manuscripts; as the Administrative Records series, transcripts of minute books, letterbooks, and other institutional records; a number of other Joseph Smith documents and closely related documents; and various reference materials.

Some Joseph Smith documents will be available in the print edition before they are available electronically, whereas others will first become available on the website. The print volumes include rich annotation, including series and volume introductions, a full source note and historical introduction for each document, and textual and contextual footnotes. When documents that have appeared first in the print edition are published on the website, they will be accompanied by the annotation that accompanied them in print.

In contrast, when documents are published electronically before they appear in print, they will typically be accompanied by very limited annotation—a brief source note, sometimes a short historical introduction, and textual notes indicating changes in handwriting. The web edition includes images of all documents, arranged side by side with the transcripts, except in the few cases where images are not available or permission to publish them could not be obtained. In contrast, the print volumes generally do not include more than a small selection of document images.

Eventually, nearly all documents published on the website, whether or not they also appear in the print edition, will include full source notes, full historical introductions, and textual and contextual footnotes. That is to say that whereas for the next few years some material will be available in the print edition that is not available in the web edition, eventually the web edition will include all material in the print edition, plus much more. Until that time, persons desiring to read or research Joseph Smith’s papers may be best served by consulting both the electronic and the print components of The Joseph Smith Papers.

“Interim Content”

The Joseph Smith Papers Project intends to publish thrice-verified transcripts of all Joseph Smith documents on this website, complete with textual and contextual annotation that has been subjected to rigorous internal and external review. To make transcripts available to the public more quickly, the project will publish some documents in an interim phase after they have been verified twice but before they have been verified for the third and final time by a text expert and without the full historical introductions and annotation that will eventually accompany the documents. Such transcripts and any preliminary annotation will be labeled as “interim content.” The label “interim content” will also appear on reference materials, such as biographical sketches, that do not yet have complete documentation posted on this site. In other words, “interim content” marks any content that will ultimately be replaced by upgraded, final content.

Rules of Transcription

The project’s rules for transcribing documents are described in detail in the statement of editorial method for Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839. Most of those rules apply regardless of the series to which a document pertains. However, conventions vary somewhat depending on the aims of the series or volume and on the characteristics of documents within a series or volume. Also, for technical reasons, some formatting elements are standardized in a different way on this website than they are in the print volumes.

The following transcription rules apply to the documents published on this website. Users of a print volume of The Joseph Smith Papers should consult the editorial method within that volume.

Because of aging and sometimes damaged texts and imprecise penmanship, not all handwriting is legible or can be fully deciphered. Hurried writers often rendered words carelessly, and even the best writers and spellers left out letters on occasion or formed them imperfectly and incompletely. Text transcription and verification is therefore an imperfect art more than a science. Judgments about capitalization, for example, are informed not only by looking at the specific case at hand but by understanding the usual characteristics of each particular writer. The same is true for deciphering spelling and punctuation. If a letter or other character is ambiguous, deference is given to the author’s or scribe’s usual spelling and punctuation. Where this is ambiguous, modern spelling and punctuation are favored. Even the best transcribers and verifiers will differ from one another in making such judgments. Interested readers may wish to compare the transcripts with the images of the documents on this site to understand how these transcription rules have been applied.

Documents on this website may be published after they have been verified twice and with only preliminary annotation, in which case they are marked as “interim content”; or they may be published after they have been verified for a third and final time by a text expert and accompanied by textual and contextual annotation. To ensure accuracy, each verification stage is done by a different person using a different method. The first two verifications are done using high-resolution scanned images. The first is a visual collation of the document images with the transcripts, while the second is an independent and double-blind image-to-transcript tandem proofreading. The third and final verification of the transcripts is a visual collation with the original document. At this stage, the verifier employs magnification and ultraviolet light as needed to read badly faded text, recover heavily stricken material, untangle characters written over each other, and recover words canceled by messy “wipe erasures” made when the ink was still wet or removed by knife scraping after the ink had dried. Transcripts that have been through all three stages of verification meet or exceed the transcription and verification requirements of the National Archives and Records Administration’s National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

The approach to transcription employed in The Joseph Smith Papers is conservative by historical documentary editing standards. The transcripts render most words letter by letter as accurately as possible, preserving the exact spelling of the originals. This includes incomplete words, variant spellings of personal names, repeated words, and idiosyncratic grammatical constructions. The transcripts also preserve substantive revisions made by the original scribes. Canceled words are typographically rendered with the strikethrough bar, while inserted words are enclosed within angle brackets. Cancellations and insertions are also transcribed letter by letter when an original word—such as “sparingly” or “attend”—was changed to a new word simply by canceling or inserting letters at the beginning or end of the word—such as “sparingly” or “attend<ed>”. However, for cases in which an original word was changed to a new word by canceling or inserting letters in the middle of the word, to improve readability the original word is presented stricken in its entirety, followed by the revised word in its entirety. For example, when “falling” was revised to “failing” by canceling the first “l” and inserting an “i”, the revision is transcribed as “falling <failing>” instead of “fal<i>ling”. Insubstantial cancellations and insertions—those used only to correct spelling and punctuation—are silently emended, and only the final spelling and punctuation are reproduced. For example, a manuscript reading “Joseph, Frederick, & and Oliver” will be rendered in the transcript as “Joseph, Frederick, and Oliver”. And a manuscript reading “on Thirsday 31th<st> arrived at Buffalo” will be rendered “on Thirsday 31st arrived at Buffalo”.

The transcription of punctuation differs from the original in a few other respects. Single instances of periods, commas, apostrophes, and dashes are all faithfully rendered without regard to their grammatical correctness, except that periods are not reproduced when they appear immediately before a word, with no space between the period and the word. Also, in some cases of repetitive punctuation, only the final mark or final intention is transcribed while any other characters are silently omitted. Dashes of various lengths are standardized to a consistent pattern. The short vertical strokes commonly used in early American writing for abbreviation punctuation are transcribed as periods, except that abbreviation punctuation is not reproduced when an abbreviation is expanded in square brackets. Flourishes and other decorative inscriptions are not reproduced or noted. Ellipsis marks appear in the featured text only where they occur in the original manuscript and are standardized to a consistent format; they do not represent an editorial abridgment. Punctuation is never added silently. When the original document sets off a quotation by using quotation marks at the beginning of each line that contains quoted matter, the quotation is formatted as a block quote, without the original quotation marks preserved.

Incorrect dates, place names, and other errors of fact are transcribed as they appear in the original. The intrusive sic, sometimes used to affirm original misspelling, is never employed, although where words or phrases are especially difficult to understand, editorial clarifications or corrections are inserted in brackets. Correct and complete spellings of personal names are supplied in brackets the first time each incorrect or incomplete name appears in a document (or natural subdivision of a lengthy document such as a journal), unless the correct name cannot be determined. Place names that may be hard to identify are also clarified or corrected within brackets. When two or more words are inscribed together without any intervening space and the words were not a compound according to standard contemporary usage or the scribe’s or author’s consistent practice, the words are transcribed as separate words for readability. Entries in journals or other multiple-entry documents appear in their original sequence, retaining any out-of-order or duplicate entries.

Formatting is standardized. Original paragraphing is retained, except that in journal texts the first paragraph of the journal entry is run in with the original dateline. Standardized editorial datelines—typographically distinguishable from the text—have been added before entries in journals and other multiple-entry documents. Paragraphs are given in a standard format, with regularized indention and with empty lines between paragraphs omitted. Blank space of approximately five or more lines in the original is noted, as are lesser amounts of blank vertical space that appear significant. Extra space between words or sentences is not captured unless it appears the scribe left a blank space as a placeholder to be filled in later. Block quotations in originals are set apart with block indentions. Because of the great number of words broken across a line at any point in the word, with or without a hyphen, end-of-line hyphens are not transcribed and there is no effort to note or keep a record of such words and hyphens. This leaves open the possibility that the hyphen of an ambiguously hyphenated compound escaped transcription or that a compound word correctly broken across a line ending without a hyphen is mistakenly transcribed as two words.

Many but not all changes in color of ink are noted. In some cases, the ink color changes mid-entry to match the ink color of the following entry, indicating that the latter portion of an entry likely was added at the time the subsequent entry was inscribed. These and other significant color changes are noted. However, it is apparent in some cases that a scribe had more than one color of ink at hand because the scribe changed colors often, even in the middle of sentences. Such changes in ink color are not generally considered noteworthy. In some entries, cancellations and insertions were made in a different color than the original inscription. Because these cancellations and insertions are already marked as revisions—with the horizontal strikethrough bar for cancellations and with a pair of angle brackets for insertions—the color of the ink used for the revision is not noted.

Clerical notations (such as signatures or posting endorsements, often written on the back of a document or a document wrapper) are transcribed as insertions if they were made at the same time the document was created. Later clerical endorsements will be reproduced in the final Source Note. Some types of notations, such as later archival markings, may not be reproduced.

In many cases, especially in the Documents series, the document featured on this site is part of a larger document. For example, an individual revelation featured on this site may have been transcribed from Revelation Book 1 or Revelation Book 2, both large manuscript books that contain copies of dozens of revelations. In these cases, images are provided for the entirety of all pages on which the document appears, but the transcript represents only the text of the document.

Redactions and other changes made on the manuscript after the original production of the text, such as when later scribes used the journals for drafting history, are not transcribed. Labeling and other forms of archival marking are similarly passed by in silence.

Transcription Symbols

The effort to render mistakes, canceled material, and later insertions sometimes complicates readability by putting Joseph Smith and his scribes behind the “barbed wire” of symbolic transcription. For this reason this website will eventually include a “clear text” view of the transcript that removes most of these elements. However, conveying such elements with transcription symbols can aid in understanding the text and the order and ways in which the words were inscribed. Our standard transcription therefore includes such notations.

The following symbols are used to transcribe and expand the text:

 The scribe icon indicates a change in handwriting. Clicking on the icon opens a footnote that identifies the previous and commencing scribes, unless one of the scribes is Joseph Smith, in which case the handwriting is rendered in bold.
[roman]Brackets enclose editorial insertions that expand, correct, or clarify the text. This convention may be applied to the abbreviated or incorrect spelling of a personal name, such as Brigham Yo[u]ng, or of a place, such as Westleville [Wesleyville]. Obsolete or ambiguous abbreviations are expanded with br[acket]s. Bracketed editorial insertions also provide reasonable reconstructions of badly miss[p]elled worsd [words]. Missing or illegible words may be supplied within brackets in cases where the supplied word is based on textual or contextual evidence. Bracketed punctuation is added only when necessary to follow complex wording.
[roman?]A question mark is added to conjectured editorial insertions, such as entire words [accidentally?] omitted, where it is difficult to maintain the sense of a sentence without some editorial insertion.
-[roman]-Stylized brackets represent brackets used in the original text.
[italic]Significant descriptions of the writing medium—especially those inhibiting legibility—and of spacing between the inscriptions are italicized and enclosed in brackets: [hole burned in paper], [leaf torn], [blank], [9 lines blank], [pages 99–102 blank].
[illegible]An illegible word is represented by the italicized word [illegible] enclosed in brackets.
An illegible letter or other character within a partially legible word is rendered with a diamond. Repeated diamonds represent the approximate number of illegible characters (for example: sto◊◊◊◊s).
[p. x]Bracketed editorial insertions indicate the end of an originally numbered manuscript page, regardless of the location of the written page number on the manuscript page.
[p. [x]]Bracketing of the page number itself indicates that the manuscript page was not originally numbered and that the number of the page is editorially supplied.
underlinedUnderlining is typographically reproduced. Multiple underlining is standardized to a single underline. Individually underlined words are distinguished from passages underlined with one continuous line.
superscriptSuperscription is typographically reproduced.
canceledA single horizontal strikethrough bar is used to indicate any method of cancellation: strikethrough and cross-out, wipe erasure and knife erasure, overwriting, or other methods. Individually canceled words are distinguished from passages eliminated with a single cancellation. Characters individually canceled at the beginning or end of a word are distinguished from words canceled in their entirety.
<inserted> Insertions in the text—whether interlinear, intralinear, or marginal—are enclosed in angle brackets. Letter<s> and other characters individual<ly> insert<ed> at the beginning or end of a word are distinguished from <words> inserted in <their> entirety.
boldJoseph Smith’s handwriting is rendered in boldface type. Bracketed editorial insertions made within passages of Smith’s own h[and]w[riting] are also rendered in boldface type.
shorthandInstances of Taylor shorthand—a phonetic system of symbols first published by Samuel Taylor in 1786—are expanded into longhand in the running text and enclosed by stylized brackets, with precise transliterations and any necessary description or explanation appearing in footnotes.
textThe word text begins textual footnotes describing significant details not comprehended by this scheme of symbolic transcription.
 In document transcripts, original line breaks are marked with a dashed vertical line.
|In source notes and text notes, a line break artificially imposed in an original document (where the scribe begins a new line before coming to the end of the preceding line) is rendered as an unbroken vertical line.
HAn Egyptian hieratic character is represented by a stylized “H”.

“Clear Text” Alternative Presentation

For selected Joseph Smith documents, users of this site will be able to select a “clear text” view of the document transcript. In the clear text view, abbreviations are expanded, canceled material is ignored, inserted material is presented without the insertion brackets, misspellings are corrected, punctuation is modernized, and other editorial changes are made to present the text in a highly standardized, readable format. The clear text view eliminates the “barbed wire” that often accompanies the default view of the transcript. The purpose of the clear text is to make the content of the text more accessible to users who do not require as much accuracy and detail as is available in the default view of the transcript. The clear text is meant to be a useful resource, not a definitive interpretation of the texts.

Annotation Conventions

As noted above, nearly all Joseph Smith documents published on this website will eventually include a full source note, full historical introduction, and contextual and textual footnotes. However, for the next few years, some document transcripts published on this site will include only limited annotation.

The Joseph Smith Papers do not present a unified narrative. Annotations supply background and context to help readers better understand and use the documents. The aim of the annotation is to serve scholars and students of early Mormon history and American religious history generally, whose familiarity with these fields may vary widely.

The Papers cite original sources where possible and practical. Secondary sources of sound scholarship are cited when they usefully distill several primary sources or provide useful general context. Quotations from primary sources preserve original spelling but silently emend cancellations and insertions (unless judged highly significant).

Certain conventions simplify the presentation of the annotation. Joseph Smith is usually referred to by the initials JS. The terms Saint, Latter-day Saint, and Mormon—all used by mid-1834 in reference to church members—are employed interchangeably here. Most sources are referred to in the footnotes by a shortened citation form, with the complete citation viewable by selecting “Show Works Cited” or by accessing the list of works cited pertaining to a particular document or set of documents. Some documents are referred to by editorial titles rather than by their original titles or the titles given in the catalogs of their current repositories. A few frequently mentioned repositories are referred to by abbreviations in source citations: BYU (L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah); CCLA (Community of Christ Library-Archives, Independence, Missouri); CHL (Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City); FHL (Family History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City); and MSA (Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City).

The annotation extensively cites Joseph Smith’s revelations. In the 1830s, Smith and his followers used the terms commandment and revelation to refer to these dictations that they viewed as divine communications. Usage patterns in early documents suggest that in the earliest years, Latter-day Saints may have seen subtle differences in the meaning of these terms: commandment may have denoted communications that required action or obedience, whereas revelation may have referred to communications on doctrinal topics. During the mid-1830s, revelation—the term used throughout The Joseph Smith Papers to refer to these works—became standard. Many of these revelations were first collected and published, with numbered chapters and paragraphs (or verses), as the Book of Commandments in 1833. An expanded collection, organized into sections and with new versification, was published in 1835 as the Doctrine and Covenants. In 1844, at the time of his death, Smith was overseeing publication of a revised version of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was published later that year. Since then, the Doctrine and Covenants has been published in several editions, each including newly canonized revelations or other items.

In source citations in the Papers, revelations are identified by their original date and by a citation of the version most relevant to the particular instance of annotation (usually an early canonized—and therefore published—version). In cases in which two or more revelations bear the same date, a letter of the alphabet is appended so that each revelation has a unique editorial title—for example, May 1829–A or May 1829–B. Revelation citations also include a bracketed “D&C” reference that provides the Doctrine and Covenants section and verse numbers that have been standard in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1876. For example, the last portion of the revelation that provided a basis for the Mormon health code is cited as Revelation, 27 Feb. 1833, in Doctrine and Covenants 80:3, 1835 ed. [D&C 89:16–21]. Bracketed D&C references are provided for the benefit of Latter-day Saints, who can easily access the revelations in their familiar canon of scriptural works, and other students of early Mormonism who may wish to access the most widely available editions of these revelations. A table titled Corresponding Section Numbers in Editions of the Doctrine and Covenants is provided to help readers refer from the cited version of a canonized revelation to other published versions of the same revelation. For more information about revelation citations, see the aforementioned table and the introduction to the Works Cited.

Joseph Smith’s revelations and revelatory translations published outside of the Doctrine and Covenants, such as the Book of Mormon, are referenced in The Joseph Smith Papers to an early published or manuscript version, with references to modern Latter-day Saint publications added in brackets. These books of Latter-day Saint scripture are described in more detail in the introduction to the Works Cited. When the Bible is used in annotation, the King James Version—the version read by Smith and his followers and contemporaries, as well as by English-speaking Latter-day Saints today—is referenced.

In addition to the annotation in the main body of a text, several supplementary resources aid in understanding the text, including biographical sketches, geographical descriptions, a timeline of events, and glossary definitions. Hypertext links placed within the documents and document transcripts make many of these supplementary resources readily available. The supplementary resources may also be accessed in their own right, independent of any particular document, on the Reference portion of this site.

Initially, many of the supplementary resources will be published on this site without supporting documentation. Most supplementary resources will eventually include complete documentation.