Captions convey not only what is being said, but what is being communicated through all of a work's audio information. Use this checklist to ensure you are meeting the requirements of users that depend on accurate captioning. Information adapted from the Described and Captioned Media Program.


    Errorless captions are the goal for each production, including spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Accurate captions will:

    • Ensure no spelling errors are present and be consistent with spelling of words throughout the film.

    • Use correct punctuation, including commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks, and quotation marks.

    • When a speaker stutters, caption what is said.

    • Use an ellipsis to indicate trailing off or a short pause within a speaker’s language, or a hyphen to indicate an interuption or aburubt halt in speech. 

    • Use italics to indicate the following: an off-screen voice-over reading, when a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing, when there is background audio that is essential to the plot, the first time a new word is being defined, off-screen dialogue, narrator, sound effects, or music (this includes background music).


    Equal access requires that the meaning and intention of the material is completely preserved. Equaly accesible captions:

    • Represent details that aid overall understanding of the intention of the video
    • Include tone of voice (humor, anger, sarcasm) in brackets above captions as needed.

    • Include phrases like [silence], [no talking], or [no audio] when no audio is present.

    • Preserve profanity and inflammatory language.

    • Note within brackets prior to speech speakers with an accent and or using provincial language (regional terms, etc).

    • When a word is spoken phonetically, caption it the way it is commonly written (e.g. "N-double-A-C-P" written as NAACP).
    • Contextualize volume with bracket descriptions like [quietly] or [shouted].


    Uniformity in style and presentation of all captioning features is crucial for viewer understanding. To assure consistent captioning:

    • Write captions in standard text, using normal upper and lower-case capitalization conventions.

    • If possible, use a sans serif font such as Arial or Helvetica medium, which is easily readable. 

    • If possible, choose a font size and color that are easily read and that provide excellent contrast with the background (white on a translucent gray background is ideal).


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

    • When possible, identify the speaker by placing the caption under the speaker. 

      • When a speaker cannot be identified by placement and their name is known, the speaker's name should be in parentheses.
      • When a speaker cannot be identified by placement and their name is unknown, identify the speaker using the same information a hearing viewer has (e.g., "female #1," "male narrator").

    • If there is only one narrator, identify as (male narrator) or (female narrator) at the beginning of the media, though it is not necessary to identify gender for each caption thereafter.

    • When an actor is portraying another person or character, identify the actor as the person being portrayed.

    • A description of sound effects, in brackets, should include the source of the sound, but eliminate the description if the source of the sound is visible onscreen.

    • Caption background sound effects only when they are essential to the plot.

    • Include onomatopoeia when possible, e.g. thud, splash, woof, pop, etc.

    • When captioning music, use objective descriptions that indicate the mood. Avoid subjective words; e.g., “classical string music,” not “beautiful music.”

      • If music contains lyrics, caption the lyrics verbatim. The lyrics should be introduced with the name of the vocalist/vocal group, the title (in brackets) if known/significant.

      • Caption lyrics with music icons (♪) if possible. Use one music icon at the beginning and end of each caption within a song.
      • If only background music is playing for an extended time, the caption indicating this does not need to stay on the screen longer than 5-10 seconds.
    • Captions can only be read linearly, so if multiple people are speaking the captions will usually not be a perfect representation of the speech. You can put speakers on different lines in the caption block or have alternating speakers for successive caption blocks. However, make sure that every caption block is visible for at least 1 second and that each change in speaker is noted.
    • In addition to captioning speech, you also have to decide which non-speech noises are important to caption. Your goal should be to capture the meaning of the non-speech audio rather than every single sound. For example, if a presenter stops speaking because the audience is applauding loudly, you could note that as [audience applause].


    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. To make captions readable:

    • Text should be centered on the screen and left-aligned, with line breaks following logical grammar syntax chunking, e.g. “Let’s all go / to the park,” not “Let’s all go to the / park.”

    • Timing of captions should be synchronous to the audio in the film as closely as possible while allowing time for material to be read.

    • If possible, move captions below the visual content so that both captions and film are fully viewable.

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