Professor Jane Millgate began work on this project in 1995 with the aim of providing the first comprehensive listing of Scott's entire correspondence. The purpose was to enable scholars and other interested users to locate all letters written by or to Scott that survive in autograph manuscript, transcript, or printed form. (Not included are letters written for publication: for example, those that Scott wrote for the Edinburgh Weekly Journal.) The location of the manuscript, or earliest copy, of each letter has been traced whenever possible, and publication information is provided for all letters known to have been published. Recipients and senders are identified, apart from a small but recalcitrant group of unknown correspondents, and although many of the original documents bear no precise date, a date or date range has so far as possible been established for each letter. (Full information about the organisation of the individual records can be found in the Description of the separate fields section, and additional advice on how to search the catalogue is provided under Help).
Because the manuscripts of Scott's own letters are so widely scattered – from Krakow to Cape Town, from Wellington, New Zealand, to Hartford, Connecticut – the first stage of the project involved the writing of letters to over a thousand libraries, collections, and private collectors all over the world, followed by searches through paper and electronic catalogues, E-mail enquiries, newspaper advertisements, and a variety of word-of-mouth and other ad hoc methods. By 2002 a combined total of more than 13,500 outgoing and incoming letters had been traced in over 1300 separate locations, and there can be little doubt that more will surface in the years to come. Although it is impossible to thank appropriately the innumerable people who helped in this search, some attempt is made to identify major contributors in the Acknowledgements section and Professor Millgate remains permanently indebted to the many others who helped locate manuscripts, identify correspondents, or establish dates, as well as to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada which provided the basic funding for the entire project. The working papers and materials used by Professor Millgate in compiling the catalogue have been deposited in the E. J. Pratt Library, Victoria College, University of Toronto.