Captions for Videos and Live Events

FOCUS AREA THREE
Video Captioning Format and Grammar (Part One)

Image: Word Grammar

Purpose:

How captions are formatted, and the way they are written grammatically, can have a huge impact on whether or not an audience can understand the content in a video. Many broadcasters and captioning companies have their own set of specific captioning formatting rules. We are also starting to see words on screen that are not really captions but add to the script and story of a film, TV series or video. In this section, we will examine a general overview of video captioning format and grammar conventions and how text messages on screen and animated captions are exploring the potential for “captioning to animate meaning, creating a richer more accessible experience” (Zdenek, 2016).

Developing an Understanding

White text with a black outline can be seen on any background

A font, or typeface, is a set of characters including letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that are a certain size, weight, and style. Typically, fonts used for captioning should be consistent and readable, of a medium weight and sans serif so that they are easy to read. It is preferable to use a white font that is outlined in black, has a drop shadow or appears in a black box, so that the captions stand out from the video background. The letters should be in upper and lower case. All capital letters are used to illustrate shouting and screaming (Captioning Key, n.d.).

Generally, it is best to have only 1-2 lines per caption so that the viewer is able to read the caption easily while it is on screen. Each line should have no more than 32 characters per line although newer guidelines suggest up to 42 characters per line. This is because television screens are now in a 16:9 aspect ratio format, rather than the old 4:3 aspect ratio format. A 16:9 screen is wider than a 4:3 screen, so there is more room for the captions. Computer screens and mobile phone screens are also in a 16:9 format. As much as possible, captions should appear when the speaker begins speaking, and disappear when the speaker is finished speaking. When there is a break in a line, or a break in a set of captions, it should follow the natural dialogue as much as possible.

Generally, it is best to have only 1-2 lines per caption so that the viewer is able to read the caption easily while it is on screen. Each line should have no more than 32 characters per line although newer guidelines suggest up to 42 characters per line. This is because television screens are now in a sixteen by nine aspect ratio format, rather than the old four by three aspect ratio format. A sixteen by nine screen is wider than a four by three screen, so there is more room for the captions. Computer screens and mobile phone screens are also in a sixteen by nine format. As much as possible, captions should appear when the speaker begins speaking, and disappear when the speaker is finished speaking. When there is a break in a line, or a break in a set of captions, it should follow the natural dialogue as much as possible.

There are basic formatting and grammar rules that can help make captions clear for the viewer.

Here are some examples:

Video Still of Mike Karapita’s interview

Example 1

Lines and length: Up to 42 characters per line, 2 lines.

Text placement: usually bottom centre.

 Video Still of Robert Richardson’s interview

Example 2

Keep the articles (the, an, a) and the nouns together.

Video Still of Mitch with headset

Example 3

Lines are not broken after a conjunction.

A conjunction is a linking word like and, or, but, then and because (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).

Hand on a sound board

Example 4

Keep the adjective with the noun that it modifies.

A modifier is a word or phrase that provides description in sentence (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).

Video still of Li’s interview

Example 5

Do not break an auxiliary verb from the verb it modifies.

An auxiliary verb is also known as a helping verb. The three most common auxiliary verbs are: be, do and have (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).

Mitch’s hands on a keyboard

Example 6

Clauses should be kept together.

A clause is a group of words that contains a verb. A clause may form part of a sentence or it may be a complete sentence in itself (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).

Sound effects and audible ambient sound should be included when they are relevant to the story and don’t interrupt spoken dialogue. Sound effects should be bracketed and in all capital letters.

Example

If a dog barks once:

(DOG BARKS)

If a dog barks continuously:

(DOG BARKING)

And, be as specific as possible when describing sound.

Example

(WAVES CRASHING) or (SEAGULLS CRYING)

is more specific than

(OCEAN SOUNDS)

— Modified from Talking Type Captions (n.d.) and the Described and Captioned Media Program Captioning Key (2016).