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Video Captioning Tips

Captioning is the key to opening up a world of information for persons with hearing loss or literacy needs. There are more than 30 million Americans with some type of hearing loss. Millions of others are illiterate, learning to read, or use English as a second language.

Captioning is the process of converting the audio content of a television broadcast, webcast, film, video, CD-ROM, DVD, live event, or other production into text and displaying the text on a screen or monitor. Captions not only display words as the textual equivalent of spoken dialogue or narration, but they also include speaker identification, sound effects, and music description. Captioning is critical for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it also aids the reading and literacy skills development of many others.

It is important that the captions are (1) synchronized and appear at approximately the same time as the audio is delivered, (2) equivalent and equal in content to that of the audio, including speaker identification and sound effects; and (3) accessible and readily available to those who need or want them.

A Definition of Captioning from DCMP‘s article on the Quality Captioning.

The DCMP believes that all captioning should include as much of the original language as possible; words or phrases which may be unfamiliar to the audience should not be replaced with simple synonyms. However, editing the original transcription may be necessary to provide time for the caption to be completely read and for it to be in synchronization with the audio.

The DCMP Captioning Philosophy from DCMP‘s article on the Quality Captioning.

Errorless captions are the goal for each production.

Uniformity in style and presentation of all captioning features is crucial for viewer understanding.

A complete textual representation of the audio, including speaker identification and non-speech information, provides clarity.

Captions are displayed with enough time to be read completely, are in synchronization with the audio, and are not obscured by (nor do they obscure) the visual content.

Equal access requires that the meaning and intention of the material is completely preserved.

The above guidelines are consistent with the 2014 mandates by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Elements of Quality Captioning from DCMP‘s article on the Quality Captioning.

Captioning Key offers guidelines for how to format and display captions for maximum readability.

Recommendations include:

  • Limit lines to 32 characters or less, including spaces.
  • No more than 1-2 lines of text per screen.
  • Use sentence case instead of ALL CAPS.
  • Use font that has ascenders and descenders, i.e., where letters like y, g, p, and q extend below the baseline, and letters like t, h, l, b, d, and f extend above the topline of other letters.
  • Use an average font weight, not too thin or too heavy.
  • Text should be centered on the screen and left-aligned.

DCMP Closed Captioning Standards from 3PlayMedia

Where tone of voice is particularly critical to meaning, and facial expression and body language are inadequate to convey the tone, the use of ‘(!)‘ and ‘(?)‘ immediately following speech can indicate sarcasm and irony as shown below:

No, no. You’re not late (!)

Comment from Anonymous on October 15, 2013 at 5:03 AM from (!)Mark in Captions/Subtitles to Indicate Sarcasm on the

  • If the speaker is not visible onscreen, or visual clues that denote the emotional state are not shown, indicate the speaker’s emotion.
    • [angrily]
      Well, whatever!
  • When feasible, describe puns.
    • Why do they call her “Ouisy”?
  • When people are seen talking, but there is no audio, caption as [no audio] or [silence].
  • When a person is whispering, caption as:
    • [whispering]
      Okay, you go first.

Special Considerations (for Captioning) from

  • If possible, caption the actual foreign words. If it is not possible to caption the words, use a description (e.g., [speaking French]). Never translate into English.
  • If possible, use accent marks, diacritical marks, and other indicators.
  • Indicate regional accent at the beginning of the first caption.
    • [Southern accent]
      If y’all want me to.
  • Keep the flavor of dialect.
    • You sho’ ain’t
      from ’round here.
  • Caption profanity and slang if in the audio.
  • When a word is spoken phonetically, caption it the way it is commonly written.
    • “N-double-A-C-P” should be captioned as “NAACP“.
    • “www dot D-C-M-P dot org” should be captioned as ““.
    • “eight or nine hundred”should be captioned as “800 or 900“.
    • “a thousand”should be captioned as “1000“.

Special Considerations (for Captioning) from