Editorial Practice

Summary of Editorial Method Statements and Revisions from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

The aim of the edition, as established by Julian P. Boyd, is to present all extant letters to and from Jefferson as accurately as possible. In preparing manuscript letters for publication, editors make decisions about how to handle punctuation, capitalization and spelling, translation and summary, and appropriate historical background. Editors must balance faithfulness to the original text with accessibility of the document for the modern reader. Highlights of Boyd’s editorial method and its evolution under successive general editors appear below. For further details, see the editorial method statements in Vol. 1:xxix–xxxv, Vol. 22:vii–xi, Vol. 24:vii, and Vol. 30:xiii–xiv.

Volume 1

Documents appear in chronological sequence according to the following conventions: place and dateline are rendered in a standardized format; sentences begin with a capital letter regardless of how they appear in the original; spelling and grammar are retained as in the manuscript with the exception of contractions and abbreviations, which are expanded; and obvious errors and slips of the pen are silently corrected.  Bracketed ellipses indicate missing, damaged, or undecipherable text. Foreign language documents appear without translation. Each document is followed by a source note describing the physical condition and giving the location of all known copies. Annotation provides a brief explanation of subjects discussed in the letters when necessary. Numbered notes at the end of a document clarify any textual issues and indicate variant versions of the text.  Editorial notes, or brief contextual essays, usually precede a file folder, or grouping of documents clustered around a common topic rather than being presented in strict chronological order.

Volume 6

References to Jefferson’s epistolary record, or Summary Journal of Letters (SJL), appear in the source notes. For letters written in code, textual notes with superscript numerals are used and may be supplemented by the use of italics. Textual notes also indicate whether the decoding was done by the recipient, someone else, or the editors.

Volume 21

The first twenty volumes were published without indexes. This volume serves as a cumulative index to those volumes.

Volume 22

Each volume, beginning with this one, now has its own index. The practice of lengthy explanatory information preceding some documents (file folders) is severely curtailed. The first of Jefferson’s miscellaneous notes, or “Anas” entries, written while he was secretary of state, appears in this volume.

Volume 26

Slips of the pen and copyists’ errors are now treated uniformly in all documents whether written by Jefferson or not. Minor or transparent errors are silently corrected, but otherwise such occurrences are allowed to stand, with a note if required. If errors are corrected in the text, the original reading is supplied in a subjoined textual note.

Volume 30

A revised, more literal method of transcription is adopted.  Jefferson’s idiosyncratic habit of lowercasing the first word in a sentence is retained rather than modernized. Capitalization follows the usage of the writer. Punctuation is retained as written, with double marks of punctuation allowed to stand. Misspellings or slips of the pen are not silently corrected but are allowed to stand or are noted in a subjoined textual note. English translations or translation summaries are provided for all foreign language documents.

Document type abbreviations


recipient’s copy


press copy


polygraph copy


file copy (all contemporary copies retained by the author or his agents)


letterbook (used with FC and Tr to denote texts copied into bound volumes)


transcript (all contemporary and later copies except file copies)

Frequently Used Repositories and Their Symbols


The Huntington Library, San Marino, California


Library of Congress


National Archives


Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston


Missouri History Museum, St. Louis


College of William & Mary, Williamsburg


University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Other abbreviations and symbols can be found in the Library of Congress’s latest edition of Symbols of American Libraries or online list of MARC repository codes