Skip to main content

Captioning Guidelines

The standard guideline for creating accessible media around the world has been developed by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

The national standard for captioning can be found in DCMP’s Captioning Key.

Captions are meant to be more than a transcription. Besides displaying words in spoken dialogue or narration, they also include speaker identification, sound effects and music description.

Important Guidelines

It is important that the captions be:

  1. Synchronized and appear at approximately the same time as the audio is available.
  2. Verbatim when time allows, or as close as possible.
  3. Equivalent and equal in content.
  4. Accessible and readily available to those who need or want them.

The most important thing about captions and subtitles is, when they appear on the screen, they are in an easy-to-read format. Currently available methods of captioning web content vary in their capabilities, but good captions adhere to the following guidelines when possible:

  • Captions appear on screen long enough to be read.
  • Limit on-screen captions to no more than two lines.
  • Captions are synchronized with spoken words.
  • Speakers should be identified when more than one person is on-screen or when the speaker is not visible.
  • Punctuation is used to clarify meaning.
  • Spelling is correct throughout the production.
  • Sound effects are written when they add to understanding.
  • All actual words are captioned, regardless of language or dialect.
  • Use of slang and accent is preserved and identified.

Best practices:

Use your judgment, as each video is different and may provide captioning challenges.

YouTube automatically generates a white sans-serif font with a black background. This look should be maintained on all videos, especially those that are captioned in-house--like captions built using video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro or Amara.

Caption centered in the lower-third with white text over a semi-transparent black background.

Familiarize yourself with the caption guideline examples provided by DCMP:

If preferred, you can print the Captioning Key.