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Subtitling and Closed Captioning Plays a Very Important Role in Our Lives

Subtitling and Closed Captioning Plays a Very Important Role in Our Lives

This is a guest post by Kelly O’Donovan. Enjoy, and please share!

Subtitles and captions are widely relied on by viewers. The deaf and the hard of hearing need captions. People also rely on captions for low quality mobile speakers on TV’s or laptops, noisy environments, and not to disturb the baby sleeping or those around them.

Subtitles are used because localization has been done through them. There are all kinds of reasons why we need to have subtitles and captions available for viewers. Nowadays, it is more common that you will have the selection to turn on the captions, not only for entertainment but learning purposes too.

Colleges and Universities are incorporating captions into their tutorials and this has not only become common practice, but also FCC regulation.

How captions are presented, both optically and structurally, could have a serious impact on the viewers understanding and enjoyment of the content. The difference between a good and bad experience is usually minor fixable issues.

I’ve written this very short article to share what I believe are the basic good practices in subtitling and closed captioning.


Let’s begin with the visuals of captions. I would start off by advising to avoid presenting too much text onscreen at one time. Make sure the subtitles are easy to read and follow. Always allow enough time for each subtitle to be read.

Ideally, each subtitle should contain a single complete sentence. Wherever two lines of unequal length are used, the upper line should preferably be shorter to keep as much of the image free as possible and in left-justified subtitles in order to reduce unnecessary eye movement.

It is crucial to caption all important dialogue and to distinguish between speakers. In subtitling, you should simplify the text to make the subtitles easy to read so that the viewers can understand them at first sight.

Use a large enough text size. The font must be clear and easily readable. There should be a high contrast between the caption (text) and the background.

Position subtitles at the center/bottom and avoid clashing with any on screen texts. The normally accepted position for subtitles is center/bottom of the screen, but in obeying this convention it is most important to avoid obscuring 'on-screen' captions or any part of a speaker's mouth or eyes.

Always ensure accuracy in captioning. The target point for synchronization should always be at naturally occurring pauses in speech-sentence boundaries, or changes of scene. This has to be the most important best practice in subtitling and closed captioning.


A question that comes up a lot in my courses are abbreviations. Can we use abbreviations in subtitles and closed captions? Just how far can we abbreviate?

Of course, there are different opinions on this topic, but I believe there are also some very good ground rules which you can go by. I have put together some very basic and easy to follow guidelines on what I think is ok to abbreviate in subtitle or caption files. I hope you will find this useful.

Abbreviations such as “wanna” (want to) and “gonna” (going to) are appearing more and more in captions these days.

Use apostrophes for abbreviations of auxiliaries like “They’d want” and “We can’t” but avoid abbreviations like “y’know” (you know) and “Jo’burg” (Johannesburg).

You can use numerals to indicate numbers over ten, for example; She is 15 years’ old, however we don’t use numeric expressions, for example; “the 3 of us” or “100s of times.”

Use of acronyms like “UCLA” and “NATO” is acceptable but acronyms like “PM” (Prime Minister) should be avoided.

Symbols such as “&” should also be avoided.

Numerals, apostrophes, acronyms and symbols all save character space by abbreviating meaning signs, we should however, use them cautiously. We always need to correctly render the meaning of the dialogue in the subtitles and keep within the restrictions of appearance.

Kelly O’Donovan

About the Author

Kelly O’Donovan
Guest Blogger

Kelly O’Donovan is the creator of GOSUB.tv – An education in the art of subtitling.

GOSUB was born from a passion and enthusiasm for subtitling and teaching.

Having started as a linguistic teacher and then moving on to become the Operations Manager of a leading subtitling agency, Kelly used her know-how, affection, and savvy to create efficient and exciting audiovisual courses.

From her years of experience working with producers, dubbing agencies, video-on-demand platforms, entertainment distributors, encoding houses and more, she has learnt a mountain of information about subtitling and closed captioning. She decided to couple this involvement with her other skill set, which is teaching. GOSUB was created for you, and we hope that you will find her courses of value.

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Comments (2)

scantrans20299 ScanTrans
Posted over 6 years ago.

Typo in article
Subtitles are used because localization has been done though [sic] them

should be through?.

diasks2 Kevin Dias
Posted over 6 years ago.

Thanks for letting us know! Updated!

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