The circumstances that create the need for annotation vary as do the kinds of annotation required. Loose sheets may be annotated (with page numbers and/or the name of a document) to show that they belong to a multipage item. Loose sheets may also be annotated (usually with a date) to show that one sheet (or more) was originally enclosed with another. Annotation supplying numbers for pages in bound volumes allows researchers to cite the exact location of information in these volumes. Sometimes dates, names, or other information do not appear on the documents themselves, but can be supplied by the processor. Any information that is added by the processor is an annotation.
Annotations share these characteristics:
- they are always written in small, legible printing, using pencil only;
- they are always enclosed in [square brackets];
- they usually appear as close as possible to the upper edge of the paper in the right-hand corner. One exception involves numbering verso pages in bound volumes, which appear in the left-hand corner. Another exception involves signatures on letters (see below).
Annotations giving page numbers should be written thus: ; ; . If other information is needed to clarify a particular leaf's position in a numbered document, include it with the page number in the square brackets: [Part I/2] is page 2 of Part I; [Section A/25] is page 25 of Section A.
Dates should appear in this order: [9 Jan. 1888]; [15 Dec. 1946]. Dates combined with page numbers should look like this: [9 Jan 1888/2]; [15 Dec 1946/5]. Enclosures should be marked like this: [Encl. 9 Jan 1888]; [Encl. 15 Dec 1946]. Note that, while we usually spell out names of months in finding aids, it is acceptable to use standard abbreviations when annotating.
When supplying missing dates, names, or other information, you may be taking educated guesses. You can let researchers know when you are guessing by using the following notation system (note that double bracketing is fine):
[1871?] means probably 1871 [April 1971?] means probably April 1871 [7? April 1871] means probably the 7th, but certainly April 1871 [187?] means probably during the 1870s [1930-1945?] means probably during the period 1930-1945 [1945+] means after 1945 [ca. 1970] means around 1970 (never use ca. unknown) [ca. April 1970] means around April 1970 [ca. 7 April 1970] means around 7 April 1970  means definitely 1977 [Paul Green] means that you are sure it is Paul Green [Paul [Green]] means that Paul appears on the document and you are sure it is Paul Green [[Paul?] Green] means that Green appears on the document and you think it is Paul [Paul Green?] means that neither part of the name appears on the document, but you think it is Paul Green [6 Aug 1977, [Paul Green?]] means that you are sure of the date; neither part of the name appears on the document, but you think it is Paul Green
Twentieth-century collections commonly require much annotation. Most people (probably including you and me) save letters by replacing them in the envelopes in which they were received. Standard archival practice involves removing letters from their envelopes and then, in most cases, relegating the envelopes to the return, sell, or discard pile. However, since envelopes often bear significant information that is not repeated in letters themselves, a common archival task involves annotating letters with information from envelopes.
The most common information to be transferred from envelope to letter is the date as recorded by the postmark. When the letter itself is not dated, it should be annotated with the postmark date thusly: [p.m. 16 July 1971] (p.m., of course, stands for postmark). When it is important to know who was where when, addresses may also be transferred from the envelope to the letter. Consult your supervising archivist about whether or not to transfer addresses from envelopes to letters in your collection. If you do annotate with addresses, place the address on the first page, upper-right corner of the letter in square brackets along with the other annotation information. Sometimes, you can get by with annotating only those letters that signal important address changes.
Finally, make sure that the separation of letter from envelope does not also separate the identity of the writer or the recipient from the letter. This is critical information to any future researcher. Place yourself in the researcher's position and then use your common sense. If the salutation reads "Dear Buck," will the researcher be able to conclude fairly easily what is clearly shown on the envelope, namely that the "Buck" in question is "Mr. Mark Beasley"? If not, annotate [Mark Beasley] immediately above "Dear Buck." Similarly, a signature may be illegible or in the form of a nickname, while a clearer or fuller version of the name appears on the envelope. In such cases, annotate (e.g., [Winifred Fordham] under the signature "Fred"). You will probably not annotate all names on all items. Consult your supervising archivist about how intensive your annotating should be.
Enclosures present another occasion for annotating. To maintain the connection between the letter and its enclosure (a newspaper clipping, a photograph, a magazine article, etc.) annotate the enclosure with the abbreviation "Encl." and the date of the letter: [Encl. 29 May 1964].
There will, of course, be exceptions to these annotating guidelines. Common sense will take you a long way here, as will consulting with your supervising archivist.