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Digital Humanities: Describing digital content

An introduction to digital humanities

The purposes of describing digital content

Descriptions of digital content improve the use of content in various ways by adding information or a structure to make sense of data. It's important to have good descriptive information (such as metadata or file names) to enable content to be searchable and reusable. 

Using a standard, along with a metadata scheme is one way to ensure that information relating to your digital content is well documented. 

Practices around describing digital content

  • Annotation 
    • Annotations may be short notes or comments that give more information about data or code. They provide context or commentary, highlighting or labelling for the purpose of focusing attention on something. Markup languages can be used to annotate text to add information, or machine readable semantic information. Annotations can also be used to track who made changes to content. 
  • Markup 
    • Markup is a language used in computer text processing to annotate content. Tags are used to define the function and formatting of sections of content. 
  • Transcription 
    • Transcription is the process of converting handwritten data to a machine readable and searchable digital format. It can also mean converting audio data to written format. 
  • Cataloguing 
    • Cataloguing identifies, creates and structures descriptive information about digital content by creating records. These records are in machine-readable format, enabling indexing by and retrieval through search engines and databases. 
  • Inventory 
    • An inventory is a directory of descriptions of datasets. It could take the form of a spreadsheet or a database. An inventory usually has a purpose and may be limited by this purpose to a specific set of details rather than an entire listing of all data about data.

Tools and techniques used to describe digital content



  • Crowdsourcing
    • Crowdsourcing involves getting people to participate in the completion of a task, the building of content or contribution towards a goal. For example, crowdsourcing has been used to generate descriptions for digitised material that would otherwise not be discoverable online. Crowdsourcing can be seen as one manifestation of the use of gaming for the creation of descriptive information about digital content.
    • Used by the Scribes of the Cairo Geniza project to transcribe Hebrew and Arabic texts.
  • Gamification
    • Gamification provides an immersive and interactive experience where user feedback and participation determines the given outcome. Gamification can create experiences, events, scenarios to introduce competition, scoring/points, speed/time/racing to get participants to complete tasks related to identifying and creating keywords, tags, or applying tags to data. The completion of the task would in fact depend on participation.
    • Used by the Transcribe Bentham project, which features badges, a leader board, and a Benthamometer.

Relevant guidelines and standards

Examples of describing and descriptions of digital content

  • Measuring the ANZACs
    • Crowdsourced project transcribing first-hand accounts of New Zealanders from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps circa World War I.
  • Shakespeare's World
    • Crowdsourced project transcribing handwritten documents by Shakespeare's contemporaries.
  • Amplify
    • Crowdsourced project helping the State Library of NSW correct computer-generated transcripts from their sound archive.
  • annoTATE
    • Crowdsourced project transcribing documents from the Tate collection of artists' papers.

Support at the Library


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