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Project Update – Quality and Cost-Efficiency of Transcription

By Louise Seaward, on 1 February 2018

Our January project update is running a little late, but I hope I’ll be forgiven!

Amongst other things, I’ve been busy preparing the first edition of the Transcribe Bentham newsletter, a new monthly email update on the project.  You can expect to find out about the latest volunteer discoveries, our progress towards our transcription goals and other Bentham-related news and events.  Sign up here.

Coming back to the subject of today’s blog post, I wanted to celebrate the publication of a new article on Transcribe Bentham. ”Making such bargain: Transcribe Bentham and the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription’ has been published in the journal, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (open-access version is coming soon).  It was written by former Transcribe Bentham colleagues Dr Tim Causer, Dr Kris GrintDr Anna-Maria Sichani and Professor Melissa Terras.  The article is a detailed statistical evaluation of the quality and efficiency of Transcribe Bentham as a transcription project.  It reveals that we have a lot to be proud of!

Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL), one of the authors of the new Transcribe Bentham article

We have long known that Transcribe Bentham is ground-breaking in terms of public engagement and access to historical material.  We are working with a fantastic community of volunteers and making thousands of pages of Bentham manuscripts and transcripts freely available online.  This article goes into more depth about other benefits of Transcribe Bentham, in terms of the quality and cost-efficiency of the work done by our volunteers.

The article is a pain-staking study of over 4000 transcripts submitted by Transcribe Bentham volunteers and then checked by Transcribe Bentham staff over a 20 month period.  The team analysed the quality of each submitted transcript and the time taken to review and edit it.  This analysis indicated that the work produced by our volunteers is of a very high quality (as we have always suspected!).  Most of the transcripts submitted on the site required only a handful of editorial changes, and nearly half required no changes at all.  It takes Transcribe Bentham staff an average of only 3.5 minutes to check and approve a page submitted by a volunteer.  So we have empirical evidence that the work of our volunteers is accurate enough to be used in a public database and as basis for further research.

Volunteer transcription is not only accurate, but efficient too.  It is much quicker for Transcribe Bentham staff to check transcripts, than to transcribe them from scratch.  There is also significant potential for cost-avoidance, even if we take into account the fact that the Bentham Project has received significant funding to establish and maintain the initiative.  Moreover, Transcribe Bentham contributes hugely to the ongoing work of the Bentham Project in producing the definitive scholarly edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.  Bentham Project researchers can make use of transcripts produced by volunteers, so they now have a head-start when they are editing Bentham’s papers.  The article also estimates that if our transcribers continue to work at their current rate, Bentham’s papers could be completely transcribed by 2036.  This would be an astonishing achievement, especially considering that the Bentham Project has been working towards this goal since the late 1950s!

We are immensely grateful to our volunteers and do not wish to reduce them to a set of statistics.  Rather, this article is designed to provide evidence of the tangible benefits of crowdsourcing transcription, pointing out the signficant success of Transcribe Bentham and also offering a model for other projects who might like to follow our lead.  It really shows the huge contribution that volunteers are making to Bentham scholarship.

If you have any questions about the article, please contact Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL).

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Transcribe Bentham, you can read other articles at our Publications page.