Growing and changing

Now that the Dictionary is so big and complex, it can be hard to see how it is changing. The raw figures are quite daunting: the Dictionary contains 572 articles totalling nearly 800,000 words, and has information on nearly 5,000 entities.

However, this is only a fraction of what it will one day contain, and we add new material to the publicly available Dictionary of Sydney every three months. In between, we work away in the background, adding new images, captions, descriptions, and connections, which are all revealed when the site is regenerated four times a year.

How does the Dictionary grow? Let me count the ways…

New commissioned material

Signalwoman M Holland operating a teletype machine, Victoria Barracks , 15 February 1945, AWM 125792

We commission authors to write essays and entries about a huge range of topics. When they come in, they are edited, some are peer-reviewed and revised by their authors, and all are copyedited, fact-checked and proofed before they are reformatted and made ready to go into the system. The files need to be completely consistent and free of those pesky hidden characters and code that can creep into Word documents. Each batch of material is at least 50,000 words in total, and some are larger.

New images and multimedia

Synthetic Rugby 2BL Rugby Broadcast: Bill Phillips and Jack Butler 1937 ABC Archives via Flickr, ABC Reference ID:

At the same time as the editor is getting the text ready, the multimedia team is finding images and multimedia for the previous upload of text, so that the pictures can catch up. This involves a lot of online research, following up leads, requesting permission and clearing copyright with all of our generous and wonderful contributing institutions. Oh, and captions, always captions, which are specific to the location of the image. Don’t be surprised if you see the same image in two different articles, but with different captions. (These all get edited and proofed too!)

New people, places, events, organisations, buildings, structures and natural features. Oh, and artefacts!

Every entity that is mentioned in any of the text is researched, confirmed, created as a record in the Dictionary database, and linked to its mention. We then try to find out more, adding milestones, relationships and connections, and writing a description for each and every one. If we can find an image that sums up the entity, we add that too. Felicity, one of our invaluable editorial assistants, calls this Speed Research, on the analogy of Speed Dating, as you can’t get too caught up in any one entity. There are always more fish in the sea! At present the Dictionary has more than 7700 entities, and we have written more than 4000 descriptions.

New facts, connections, relationships and links

And of course, when we create new entities, we also find new links, facts and connections for lots of old entities.

Warwick Farm racecourse before the latest update

Warwick Farm racecourse after our researchers are done with it.

Each one needs researching and confirming before we make the link. But the connections are the fun thing about the way the Dictionary works, and the more we put in, the more we can see the benefits. Overall, there are more than 14,ooo links between entities and text and the number increases with every regeneration of the site.

Of course when the numbers are this big, we can’t be experts on every single aspect of the Dictionary’s material and we rely on our readers to help us improve the accuracy and range of our work. Luckily, with a contact button on every page of the Dictionary (at the bottom in the middle), we get lots of helpful emails correcting any mistakes we might have let slip through. So, if you’ve written in to tell us something we’ve got wrong, thanks!


About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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