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Notes and citation

When you visit an archive, you should ensure that you take good notes. Remember, the item you are interested in may be unique and you may have to travel to see the documents you are interested in. The last thing you will want is to get home and realise you don’t have all of the information you need!

Reference numbers

When you request an item, keep a note of the reference number. That way, if you need to see it again you can easily work out what to ask for. Even take a note of the reference numbers of files you look at which aren’t interesting, if only so that you don’t request them again.

When you take notes on the information in a particular file or item, always include the reference number with your notes.


One particularly effective way of taking notes in archives is to produce transcripts, remembering to note the reference number of the document. Transcription involves copying a document word for word, whereas translation requires you to change the language. Although transcription may seem a lot of hard work, it is particularly useful if you intend to quote directly from the document, rather than describe it.

In later sections, you will see transcriptions produced by an archivist wherever it has not been possible to show an image of the original document, as well as alongside images of originals which may be difficult to read.


If you choose to take photographs and the person invigilating in the reading room (usually an archivist or archive assistant) allows you to do so, remember that you will need to work out a way of being able to identify what documents the photographs show when you get home.

To get around this, people sometimes choose to write the reference number on a separate piece of paper and include it in the photograph alongside the document (remember not to mark the archival document itself). Archival documents are usually labelled on their packaging, and sometimes on the first page, but rarely on every page.


When you write an essay, you have to cite the books you have used in a references section or bibliography at the end. Similarly, when you use archives you should cite them. We recommend citing them using the name of the repository, followed by the reference number. If your teacher advises another form of citation, you should do as they suggest. For example a particular letter from D.H. Lawrence to E.M. Forster (see Section 4) should be cited as ‘Archive Centre King’s College, Cambridge, EMF/18/311/1. Letter dated 10 September 1924’.

Look at the examples below and the way they have been cited. I have emphasised the citation in bold. It is the information which matters, not the way it appears. Anybody reading your essay (or blog etc.) should be able to tell from your citations where they need to visit and what they need to ask for if they want to see the original document.

Citing an image

Endowment grant by Henry VI
Endowment grant by Henry VI of lands and privileges to benefit his College of St. Nicholas and Our Lady (otherwise known as King’s College) at Cambridge, 1446. Photo by DIAMM.
Archive Centre, King’s College, Cambridge.  KC/18
Larger image

Citing a quote

If I was quoting from a document, rather than showing an image of it, I’d include short quotes within the paragraph with the reference number in brackets afterwards, for example ‘I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.’ (British Library. MSS. 57931 fo. 119).

Another style always used for longer passages is to have the quote inset and the reference number just below:

‘I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.’

British Library. MSS. 57931 fo. 119

You will probably need to include details about the context in which the document you are quoting from was written. For example, in the quote above, it is important to note that it was written in a letter sent from John Maynard Keynes, the economist and famous Kingsman (alumni of King’s College, Cambridge), to his friend Duncan Grant, an artist and conscientious objector, in December 1917. At the time, Keynes was working for the Treasury.

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