The study of manuscripts, that is hand-written documents of a non-administrative character and containing literary works from the sphere of belles-lettres and scientific literature, is the subject of codicology, one of the ancillary historical sciences. Its very important part is identification of manuscript records by means of the most thorough possible description. In creating such description, codicology makes use of other ancillary historical sciences, first of all paleography, sphragistics, chronology and genealogy, and the history of the literature and the region of the manuscript's origin.
The description of each manuscript consists of two parts - the external and the internal description. An external description aims at determining the outer shape of a manuscript, usually in the form of a book or codex. It is necessary to determine the state of the codex, if it is complete or damaged, and in which way. At the same time, it is necessary to find out if the codex contains one work or comprises more documents (convolute). The description appraises the binding - its state, the material used, its decoration, if it was fixed or complemented by other means of preservation (outer cover in the form of a bag or case). It states the number of codex' leaves, their size, the size of the text area and the number of lines on one page. Other issues involve determining writing materials - the type, colour, and quality of paper (and possible watermarks), the ink used, in the case of coloured inks or gilding it states in which parts of the text they were used. Next comes the make-up of the manuscript: the type of script - the face (or various types of script and their use in the text) and the decoration of the codex (framing, illumination in the rubric or board papers, and possible illustrations).
A detailed internal description aimes at determining the main attributes of the codex text, that contribute to specifying its origin, contents, creation and history. It is to identify the author, the title of the work and its contents, and its subject. The author and/or the title may be found either outside the text of the work proper - on board papers, in the title of the contents before the text, or in the preface, in the colophon, scribe's epilogue or on the tail book edge. It is necessary to record the beginning (incipit) of the author's text and its ending (explicit), the closing record of the copier (colophon) usually containing his name, the date of finishing the copy, possibly also the localization and the purpose or person, for whom the copy was made. If possible, it is necessary to evaluate on the basis of the colophon record or the scribe's marginalia or other notes the degree of identity of the copy and the autograph or another, more valuable copy (collation). In less known works, it is useful to specify the titles of individual chapters. Important for learning about the manuscript's history are ownership records (ex libris), records of its purchase, re-bindings, records of a transfer of the book to a foundation holdings, records of the work's lendings or study and finally various personal notes and records of owners (family events, bills, notes of a literary or documentary character, magic figures, astrological records, notes to the text etc.). Descriptions of convolutes are sometimes complemented by a list of documents contained.