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The Art of Captioning

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Nowhere have we seen more self-styled "Gurus" and "Experts" than in what passes for the closed caption industry.

The truth of the matter is that a bit of common sense goes a long way.  Captioning is like writing.  It's worthless unless it communicates with your target audience.

The notion of a universal "right way" or "wrong way" to caption presumes your audience is a single uniform group.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The caption audience consists of many segments covering a huge spectrum of often conflicting interests and needs:

  • Students learning to read and write English
  • People who watch foreign language videos
  • Seniors and others who use captions to validate what they may not have heard clearly
  • Point of sale advertising
  • People who have never heard
  • Hearing people where audio can't be used
  • ...and you can probably think of a few more

Your best strategy is to simply use common sense.  Tailor the captions to the video's target audience when possible, and always try to keep the captions simple and easy to read -- even if you have to paraphrase.

We've seen a few reasonable efforts to provide basic captioning guidance and share credible experience at these sites:

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters Joint Societal Issues Committee on Closed Captioning Standards published their second edition of Captioning Guidelines (PDF) in 2004.


The United States Department of Education provided funding for the Captioned Media Program of the National Association for the Deaf to publish Captioning Key (PDF) in 2006.  We've found the CMP and NAD in general to be an excellent source of information


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