Editorial Methods

The Documentary Record

Eleanor Roosevelt left a voluminous legacy. Between 1921 and 1962, ER wrote twenty-seven books, more than eight thousand columns, and approximately 580 articles. She generated an average of forty-five thousand letters a year (and received an average of one hundred seventy-five thousand letters a year) while she served as First Lady. Although no official estimates of her post-White House correspondence exist, documents collected by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers suggest that she received an average of fifty thousand letters and generated an average of twenty-one thousand letters annually from April 12, 1945, to November 7, 1962. Furthermore, she delivered more than seventy-five speeches a year. From 1945 through 1948, radios around the world carried more than thirty of her speeches and interviews. From 1934 through 1951, she hosted more than 326 radio broadcasts on nine distinct programs featuring interviews with many of the world’s major leaders and commentary on the most pressing issues of the day and appeared as a guest on more than seventy news programs. By 1950 she had become involved in the new medium of television, ultimately hosting three programs, and from 1959 until early fall 1962, National Educational Television broadcast her monthly show, Prospects of Mankind, a roundtable discussion with prominent politicians, artists, activists, and intellectuals.

 The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project found this material in more than six hundred collections scattered among 263 archives in the United States and nine other nations. Roughly one half of the documents are housed in 4,842 archival boxes at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (FDRL) in Hyde Park, New York. Thousands of other documents are distributed in more than five hundred collections. The United Nations Archives and Record Groups 59 (State Department) and 84 (US Mission to the United Nations) of the National Archives house more than three thousand documents related to ER’s tenure as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations. While her radio and television shows, as well as copies of a few of the national and international shows on which she appeared, are housed in FDRL, others are preserved in the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and local historical societies and news stations. Taped and written transcripts of speeches, interviews, and press conferences ER gave while abroad are housed in archives in Britain, France, Germany, India, Russia, Japan, and Israel.

These records contain detailed discussions of American politics, diplomacy, and policy as well as countless examples of individual responses to the challenges depression, war, containment, and the struggle for human rights presented to the average American as well as citizens the world over. They not only tell the tale of Eleanor Roosevelt’s development as a political force in her own right and the impact she had on American politics and the United Nations, but also the serious treatment she received from those in power. They disclose the inner workings of four presidential administrations, the United Nations, and the major social and political movements of the postwar world. They reveal the intense struggles her correspondents and advisers had confronting a war-scarred world, the conflicting advice they gave her, and the material ER reviewed and the people she consulted while determining her course of action.


Time and financial constraints prevent the creation of comprehensive documentary editions. The original director of the project, with the strong concurrence of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and other Roosevelt scholars, decided to produce a highly selective print edition designed to present an authoritative resource on Eleanor Roosevelt’s political and human rights record and to encourage further research on her life and the issues she addressed. As the editorial team searched manuscript collections, it excluded from consideration any document that did not reflect or discuss the actions and positions ER took as a political leader, diplomat, and stateswoman. In short, it weeded out any material that did not discuss politics, policy, world events, philosophy, faith, social justice, or government.

In the process, the project collected more than one hundred thirty thousand documents. Thus, the most daunting challenge the editorial team confronted was choosing which documents to publish, both in print and online. As the editors initiated the process of selecting documents for publication, they gave priority to material that illustrated ER’s multiple and intertwined roles as political commentator, activist, advice columnist, and moralist; expressed ER’s views on the full range of human rights issues with which she was concerned, including both civil and political rights and social and economic rights; demonstrated her use of the wide array of media available to her; displayed the stylistic and tonal range with which she addressed issues; and reflected ER’s extraordinary impact on the lives of ordinary people who wrote to her asking for help, advice, or her opinion on contemporary issues.

The editorial team evaluated documents based on four criteria: First, did the document illustrate one of the seminal events, themes, or issues of ER’s public life? Second, did it reveal ER’s distinctive voice and offer strong insight into her decision-making? Third, did it have a significant impact on politics, policy, and public opinion? Fourth, did it disclose critical information she used to reach a position?

ER left a paper trail as diverse as the arenas in which she operated. The editors wanted to create editions mirroring the various ways ER made her voice heard; therefore, they decided to include a variety of document types to illustrate the multiple ways ER spoke, wrote, and worked. Online, the editors are working to create a complete record of ER's published and broadcast work. We have already mounted corpus editions of "My Day", "If You Ask Me," and ER-hosted radio programs. The bibliography lists ER's other print publications. In the future, the project hopes to make more of this material available online.

Establishing Text

If several copies of a letter exist, we reproduce the recipient’s copy. Sometimes, however, we could not locate a recipient’s copy and therefore publish the copy that ER retained for her files. ER regularly corresponded with individuals who did not preserve their papers, so in such instances, we publish the unsigned file copy. When we can determine that ER dictated a letter, we indicate that. In certain cases, her secretary would jot down what ER wanted to convey on a note pad, type the letter on stationery without making a carbon copy, mail the letter, and retain the note pad page for the files. When such a secretarial note is the only extant copy of the letter, the editors reproduce it.

If the editors could find an audio recording of a speech ER delivered, or of a radio or television program in which she participated, we use our transcription of that recording as the text. When no such recording is available, we employ a transcript prepared at the time or a contemporary press account.

For ER's published work, the project relied on the published version of the material, unless otherwise stated. In the case of My Day, the editors used the wire service version of the columns, since different newspapers edited the column differently.


The transcription practices of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project have evolved over time, so each print volume and online edition has its own editorial statement detailing the process for that project and especially pointing out where that project differs in its standards from our general practices. The transcription practices described here are our current practices, and will govern our transcription process moving forward.

The editors strive to reproduce the documents as accurately as possible, though we do not attempt to create facsimiles. The vast majority of the material we publish was originally typed or printed, which helped to facilitate transcription, though even non-handwritten sources can present dilemmas. Furthermore, the handwritten letters we publish tend to be quite legible, as most of ER’s correspondents adhered to strict standards of penmanship. Some hands, however, proved to be difficult—though none more so than ER’s own. The audio recordings we transcribed created their own challenges as well.

Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are reproduced as they appear in the original documents, with a few exceptions. We do not correct misspellings, but where obvious typos occur (e.g. “tow” instead of “two” or “ti” instead of “it”), we present the proper spelling and make a note of the change. If a name is misspelled, or a misspelling is so severe as to make it unclear what word the writer intended, we supply an endnote for clarification. In general, we do not update antiquated spelling or alter misspelled words, though this was done for My Day online and for the first two print volumes.  No matter how dashes were originally presented (two consecutive hyphens were the norm for a typewritten document), we standardize them all as em dashes. We present ellipses, which indicate either text being skipped over or a pause in the flow of the text, as they appear in the original document. When asterisks were used in printed and typed sources to create an ellipsis instead of periods (i.e., “***” instead of “…”), we retain those asterisks.

The editors adhere to the paragraphing of the original document. However, if the beginning of a paragraph is not indented in the original, we supply an indention. Furthermore, we impose standardization in our presentation of letters. Salutations are always flush left, on their own line, above the body of the letter. Closings and signatures are centered at the bottom of the letter. Telegrams are rendered, like the originals, in all capital letters.

When an author inserted text, either typed or handwritten, between lines or in the margin, we treat such interlineations in two different ways. If we deem the inserted material to be inconsequential (perhaps added to correct an obvious omission or to smooth out the prose), we incorporate it, then we supply an endnote explaining exactly what words were added. If we can, we indicate in whose hand the material was inserted (e.g., ER’s or her secretary’s when ER was the author of a letter). We treat stricken material in a similar fashion. If stricken material does not alter the meaning of the document, we place the material in the footnote. If the stricken text is meaningful, we include it and show it as stricken. As for marginalia that did not stem from either the author or the recipient (in the case of a letter), we take no notice of it unless we can determine who wrote it or if the text has a direct bearing on the document.

The editors sometimes supply a word or words in brackets where an omission occurs in the original document. We always supply an endnote indicating that we are providing the omitted text. If the omission is due to physical damage to the document, and not something like an authorial oversight or printing error, we explain that in the note.

When the editors believe we can transcribe a word or words, but retain some doubt, we place that word or words in brackets followed by a question mark (e.g. “[amendment?]”). When we cannot offer even a conjectural reading, we make an editorial insertion in the form of italicized text in brackets—that is, “[word illegible]” or “[words illegible].” Along the same lines, we might be compelled to write, at times, simply “[word missing]” or “[words missing].”

If a letter is missing a signature, as is usually the case with a retained copy, we do not provide one. In those instances in which a copy of a letter includes a typed-in name where the signature would appear on the original, or perhaps a name stamped in (e.g., on a copy of a recipient’s letter in the State Department files), we do reproduce the name.

When transcribing audio recordings of speeches ER delivered or interviews she participated in on radio and television programs, the editors provide paragraph breaks and punctuation where we think appropriate. We indicate where we can hear sustained applause or laughter, and sometimes music. When one speaker interrupted another in a conversation, we attempt to relate this by using a dash (instead of a period) to end an incomplete statement and sometimes to start a statement that resumes the thought. When we cannot determine what a speaker said, we indicate that with “[unclear word]” or “[unclear words].” If we undertake a conjectural transcription or provide a missing word, we do so as we would with a written, typed, or printed document.

With very few exceptions, the editors have transcribed all documents in full, and exceptions are always noted. However, we do not include all material on the page. If we publish a government memorandum with a listing of multiple names of officials who attended a meeting or who were to receive a copy of the memo, we do not reproduce all the names. Instead, we supply the names, or otherwise provide an explanation, in an endnote. In regard to correspondence, we do not reproduce the letterhead. In the transcription of any document, we do not include the date, as that is incorporated in the date-and-place line below the document title, nor do we include original page numbers or like notations.

Annotation and Editorial Aids

The editors have established different standards for annotation in our print and online editions. In general, our print editions are more thoroughly annotated than the material online. Online editions generally include introductory information for the entire corpus, but not for individual documents. Print editions, on the other hand, seek to contextualize each document, and should be consulted for more complete information about ER's involvement in the issue at hand.

The editors provide citations for all the sources used in annotation. When we employ manuscripts, we supply a description of the document, its date (if possible), and the collection and repository in which it can be found. (See the “Abbreviations” section for these collections and repositories.) In citing United Nations documents, we provide all of this information, plus—in brackets—the document number assigned to it by the UN. When we draw upon newspaper and magazine articles, we supply a complete citation (though readers should consult the “Abbreviations” section for the full titles of the publications). If we use a Web site (and it is not on our short-title list in the “Abbreviations” section), we provide the URL and the date we accessed it.

When referring to a place, the editors employ the version or spelling prevalent at the time of the document's creation (e.g. Bombay rather than Mumbai, Peiping rather than Beijing, and Formosa rather than Taiwan). However, when we discuss an individual, we use the currently accepted spelling as defined in the “Library of Congress Authorities” (e.g. Mao Zedong rather than Mao Tse-tung). Furthermore, the editors always write lowercase “communist” or “communism” unless referring explicitly to the “Communist Party.” In quotations, of course, we retain all spelling and capitalization as originally rendered.