Captioning Videos FAQ

Thank you for your interest in captioning videos! When you caption videos, You’ll be rewarded with more video views because those with captions reach more viewers than those without captions. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about captioning videos.


Who uses captions on videos?

Believe it or not, it’s not just deaf or hard of hearing who use captions. In fact, 80 percent of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing per Verizon Media. More and more statistics about captions keep coming out that show many watch videos without sound.

Here are a few more:

  • 80% of viewers react negatively to videos autoplaying with sound. So now, many social media outlets now autoplay videos on silent. [Source: Facebook]
  • 80% of video views on LinkedIn occur with the sound off [Source: LinkedIn]
  • 40% using Instastories have the sound off [Source: AdWeek]
  • 80% more likely to watch the entire video with captions available [Source: Verizon Media]

It’s odd how many of the statistics have 80 percent, but that’s what they say.

How do I create captions for videos?

Well, you have options. The best one depends on your equipment, budget, and time commitment.

1. DIY: Do-it-yourself

You have many captioning software options from which to choose. The best one depends on your processes and preferences. What you want to think about is what operating system you use, whether you’re captioning on a desktop/laptop or mobile device, and the tools you already use. For example, if you use Adobe Premier or TechSmith Camtasia for videos, it might be ideal to use them for captioning.

2. Caption service

There are companies that can caption your video for you. Some send you the caption text file, typically an SRT file. In this case, you will need two files to ensure the captions show up. The two files are the video itself and the SRT file. This is called closed-captions.

Some captioning services send your video with the captions glued on. (This is called open captions.) In other words, you don’t need the SRT file to display the captions. Just upload the video and the captions are there.

3. Automatic captioning tool or software

Sites like YouTube and Facebook can automatically caption your video. But this is not as accurate as human captioning. Some people let the service automatically caption the video and then they edit the captions.

People with accents like mine require a lot of editing. So, I prefer to do the captions on YouTube myself or upload a script when I have one. YouTube does a decent job setting the timings.

Tools like iClips (iOS) and AutoCap (Android) automatically caption your videos. They’re also not 100 percent accurate.

Like any other tool or software, each one has features, strengths, and weaknesses. Here’s a list of captioning software and services to help.

How long does it take to caption a video?

You’ll hate my answer. It depends. The biggest factor is the length of the video and how much audio it has. Simply put, the longer the video and the more audio it has, the longer it will take to caption it.

I uploaded my captioned video and there are no captions?

It could be a few things. The most common one happens with closed-caption videos. These require two files: the video and the caption file (most likely SRT or VTT). Both need to be uploaded for the captions to appear.

When you upload both and still don’t see the captions, see this answer.

Can I tell if a video is captioned before I play the video?

Unfortunately, you can’t always know if a video is captioned before you watch it. In some players, you’ll see the [CC]. But sometimes this is automatic captioned videos and the captioning quality is lousy. Besides, if your device does not have captions turned on in the accessibility settings, the [CC] will not appear — even if the video has captions available.

Open captions won’t have a [CC] button. Occasionally, you may see a box where the captions are in the video before pushing play. This usually hints it has captions.

That’s why I’ve been encouraging video creators to add #Captioned to their video posts. It gives people a way to search for captioned videos. It expands your video’s reach. Plus, caption users appreciate being able to find captioned videos and not wasting their time with uncaptioned videos.

How do captions work?

Bad news. Captions don’t magically show up by themselves. They typically require two things:

  • The video
  • Text file with the captions

If you use YouTube’s automatic captions, YouTube creates a caption text file. You can download it and use it elsewhere.

The way to add captions to a video is to create a text file that goes with the video. There are many caption formats. The most common formats are SRT and WebVTT.

The caption file is a text file that you can open in a text editor. The magic happens in the time codes. They tell the captions when to appear and disappear.

There are instances in which you may not have a text file with the captions. Some apps add captions to your video without producing a text file. In this case, this is a video with open captions. That means the viewer will see the captions no matter what.

What is an SRT file?

SRT is the file you use to add captions to your video. Its file name contains the .srt extension, which is short for SubRip subtitle file. It’s like a text file. You can open it in a text editor to see its contents.

This file contains the text for the captions. It shows the sequence of the captions along with the start and end timecode. This indicates when the captions should show up on the video.

Here’s what the text in an SRT file looks like:

 00:00:00,200 --> 00:00:02,560
 Hey, y'all!
 Meryl Evans here

 00:00:02,560 --> 00:00:05,700
 with a caption
 #ValueIn30 tip.

 00:00:05,700 --> 00:00:10,940
 One of the rules of great captions is synchronized.

Notice the last entry has one line of captions. That’s how it will show up in the video. And that’s a tad too long. You can simply put the cursor after “great” and hit “Enter” to break it like this:

 00:00:05,700 --> 00:00:10,940
 One of the rules of great
 captions is synchronized.

And it’ll be more readable. You can edit the text file to improve the readability.

What is an WebVTT (VTT) file?

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are both cola drinks, but they taste different. SRT and WebVTT are both caption files, but they’re formatted differently. And different apps tend to accept one or the other. SRT is more common for online videos.

WebVTT is based on SRT and takes it a step further. It allows you to control the positioning of the captions, change the colors with CSS (I don’t recommend it), and use bold, italics, and underline like with HTML. WebVTT files contain a .vtt extension. Here’s what the same captions from the previous SRT example looks like in a VTT file:

Kind: captions
Language: en

00:00:00.200 --> 00:00:02.560
Hey, y'all!
Meryl Evans here

00:00:02.560 --> 00:00:05.700
with a caption
ValueIn30 tip.

00:00:05.700 --> 00:00:10.940
One of the rules of great
captions is synchronized.

Unlike the SRT file, WebVTT does not use sequence numbers. It simply lists the start and end time for the captions followed by the text.

As for how you can change the style of the captions, here’s a WebVTT example that shows it in action. The one feature you might want to use is to temporarily move captions to the top to prevent covering up important information on the bottom.

I used a service that created the SRT file, but my video doesn’t have captions! What happened?

Most likely, when you uploaded the video, it didn’t have the SRT file with it. When you upload it to a site like LinkedIn or YouTube, you upload the SRT file with it.

When you schedule to post a video using a social media scheduling tool, it will post it without the captions. I have not seen a social media scheduler that allows you to add the video and the caption file. If I’m wrong, let me know!

I uploaded the video and SRT file, but there are no captions! Why?

Three possibilities:

  • The file “fell off.” This has happened to me on LinkedIn. I posted it. The captions worked. Then a few days later, the captions disappeared. This is where open captions have an advantage.
  • They may be there. The browser needs refreshing or try a different browser.
  • The person viewing it does not have captions turned on in the settings of their device or Mac. Yes, it takes two steps to turn on closed captions on a phone. First, turn on the captions in the phone’s Settings. Second, turn on the captions in the video.

Why do some captions disappear? Is it platform-related?

It can be a lot of things. It could be a platform issue like it happened with me on LinkedIn. Sometimes captions are scrambled, disappearing, or acting all funky. It’s typically not on your end. The file might’ve dropped off, the network connection could be poor, any number of technical problems could cause it that are out of your control.

But, once in a while, when I see zero captions, I follow the No. 1 rule for fixing technology: I turn the TV or device off and on. And this works some of the time.

What are open captions? Closed-captions?

Open captions are burned-in the video. It’s permanent. You cannot turn it off and on. If the video is viewed on a small screen and when you make it larger, open captions don’t get bigger. They cannot change at all.

With closed-captioned videos, viewers can turn them off and on. Another benefit is that search engines can read the captions. Closed captions adapt to the screen size. If you view them on a phone and expand the video, the captions get bigger.

Should I use open captions, closed captions, or both?

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to open vs. closed captions. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Open captions ensure they show up no matter what.

Closed captions are not always there for many reasons. The caption file could’ve been swallowed up into the void (that’s what happened a few times on LinkedIn). The user may not have captions turned on in accessibility. The viewer may not know how to turn them on.

I recommend using closed captions wherever possible. This puts the captions in the viewer’s control. The viewer can turn them off and on as well as change the formatting.

Definitely don’t use both. It’s redundant.

Are subtitles and captions the same thing?

Yes and no.

Some countries refer to captions as “subtitles.” They don’t use the term “captions.”

Subtitles refer to the translated text in a foreign film. If the viewer’s first language is English and the movie is in Spanish, the subtitles display Spanish dialog in English.

Get this. If someone speaks English in a Spanish movie, the subtitles disappear. They don’t show English dialog at all.

Captions show everything including English and Spanish dialog, sounds, voice changes, etc.

Whether your video contains one or multiple languages, caption everything to provide the best viewing experience.

Why isn’t automatic captioning good enough to caption videos?

You should see all the autocraptions (automatic craptions) on the videos I upload to YouTube.

“As you’ll find, YouTube’s captioning doesn’t always get it right. In fact, accuracy rates can be as high as 80 percent under good conditions and as poor as 50 percent under bad conditions,” writes 3Play Media.

If your video is lucky enough to get the 80 percent accuracy rate, is it good enough? It’s better than no captions, right?

Uh … no. W3C WAI’s Subtitles/Captions page says automatic captions are not good sufficient.

Here are random sentences pulled from various posts with 20 percent of the text removed. Instead of blanks like these, you get completely different words with autocraptions that mess up the context.

  • “For years we’ve heard the question ‘____ your ____?’”
  • “When you’re too deep in the _____, you often can’t see _____.”
  • “Thanks to everyone who gave me a _____ of their _____.”
  • “Eighty percent of the people who use _____ are not _____.”

Just how much can you comprehend with 80 percent of the captions or text?

And the reality is that automatic captions don’t achieve an 80 percent accuracy rate especially not with me. Oh, no. More like 50 percent or worse!

That said, would you say an 80 percent accuracy rate is good enough? Better than no captions?

Or does it turn reading captions into a frustrating experience that the viewer is better off without autocraptions? Many of us quit watching out of frustration. Here are 5 reasons why automatic captions are a big problem.

We captioned a live event and received the transcript. But it won’t work as a caption file. What can we do?

You’re right that a plain text file cannot work as a caption file. That’s because the captions need time codes to know when to show up and disappear. What you can do is use a tool like YouTube’s subtitles tool. Select Transcribe and auto-sync option.

There, copy and paste the entire transcript. YouTube will set the timings. It does a decent job with scripts. Then, you can tweak it and download the caption file in SRT, VTT, or SBV.

If the spoken text appears on the screen as a chyron, do you caption it?

No. If there’s any text representation on the screen of what’s said, you don’t need to caption it. For example, a TV special announced the guest stars. At the same time, the stars’ names appeared on the screen. No captions. The only time you might add captions is when the onscreen text is hard to read.

What are the best practices for captioning videos?

Excellent question. Here are the 10 rules of great captions!

Who do you recommend for captioning live events?

I’ve personally had great experiences with Texas Closed Captioning and Mirabai Knight. And I saw SubPly do Microsoft Ability Summit. BEST live captions because they used pop-in instead of scrolling. They did live captions in English and then had AI translations for different languages.

Recommendations from trusted colleagues who depend on captions:

If any of these companies have subpar captions, please let me know.

What are the best font and color for caption text?

Here’s what Captioning Key says about caption text:

“The use of white characters is preferred. They need to be medium weight, be sans serif, have a drop or rim shadow, and be proportionally spaced. The use of a translucent box is preferred so that the text will be clearer, especially on light backgrounds.

“The font must include upper- and lowercase letters with descenders that drop below the baseline.”

The problem with a translucent box is that the movement behind it can be distracting. After much trial and error as well as getting feedback from people with dyslexia and language disorders, I’ve found this works:

  • #FFFFF0 (teeny bit off white) for the text
  • #242424 (slightly off-black) for the background
  • Plain sans serif font
  • Mixed case

I don’t recommend the drop or rim shadow because it’s hard to get right in do-it-yourself captions. The default works in closed captions. Why mess with a good thing?

Should I use transcripts or captions?

It should not be an either-or situation. You want to offer both.

When you have the caption file, it’s relatively easy to create a transcript. YouTube does it automatically.

Wish more platforms would follow YouTube’s Transcript footsteps. While I’m not a fan of platforms copying each other’s new features, this is an accessibility feature and one worth copying.

Here are the main reasons why you want to offer both. I’m sure there are more.

1. Transcripts are accessible for people using a refreshable Braille display.

They’re also accessible for screen readers. Captions are not accessible or easy to use for these assistive technologies (AT).

You can work around this on Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms by pasting the transcript into the post or comments.

Some content management systems like WordPress have plug-ins that automatically add a transcript to a video.
Equal Entry’s blog has my favorite version of this feature.

2. Captions move too fast for some viewers.

Captions show one or two lines at a time. Some people need to go back or see more lines at a time.

You don’t want to dump captions in favor of transcripts. It’s a wholly different #UserExperience (UX).

3. Transcripts allow people to search and scan the content.

Someone may be looking for a specific part in a video or podcast. It’s not easy to search the video or audio for the content you want. Hence, the transcript solves this problem.

4. Captions have less cognitive overhead.

You don’t want to drop captions for transcripts because transcripts are harder to read and follow. It can be easy to lose your place. Captions make it easier to catch more of what’s happening in the video.

Which software should I use to caption videos?

You’ll hate my answer.

It depends. It truly does. Here’s why.

Let’s say you use an app to edit your videos. It may have captioning built-in. You already have it, so you might as well try its captioning feature.

Or you work in an enterprise. They often have a list of approved software. And the app I suggest may not be on it.

Maybe you create your videos on your phone. In that case, you’ll want an app compatible with your phone.

Do you create scripts for videos? If so, you can look for an app that allows you to copy and paste the script. The app will sync it for you.

Do your videos contain high-quality audio with someone speaking clear English? An automatic captioning app may work well. But always check the captions because they will need editing.

Even if the caption text is perfect, the app may not follow all captioning best practices. Common mistakes with auto captioning tools are long lines and bad breaking points. These make a difference.

Personally, I use YouTube’s subtitles tool. It’s free and works for me. When I finish captioning the video, I download the text file. And then I upload that text file with my video. That would make it a closed-caption video.

Here’s the long list of tools to caption videos.

How do you successfully caption a live interview with a deaf speaker or any kind of accent?

Chris Bogue had my accent and I along with Viktor Köves on his “live” show. I added quotes because we weren’t live, but he aired it like a live show. Here’s the process.

  1. The three of us collectively decided on the questions and structure of the conversation in advance of the interview.
  2. We used Zoom‘s automatic captions during the initial recording. They are not perfect (nor are these easy to find and turn on) but combined with Meryl’s lip-reading skills, she was able to follow the conversation.
  3. After the interview, Meryl downloaded the video and captioned most of her own dialogue, which she exported as an .SRT file.
  4. Chris uploaded the .SRT file into Adobe Premiere Pro and captioned the rest.
  5. Once the video file was completed, Chris uploaded it to StreamYard using their “Broadcast a Previously Recorded Video” option for LinkedIn Live.
  6. Please note that Streamyard does not yet have the ability to upload a separate caption file, so Chris had to burn the captions directly into the video with Adobe Premiere Pro.

Here’s the outcome of the recorded video.

What should you do about captions if a video has no audio?

If the video is silent, then you’ll need to let people know this. If you don’t, we might think the captions are broken or that you didn’t caption the video and it leaves us feeling miffed. Let people know there is no sound. Here are a few options:

  • Add caption: [No sound in the entire video]
  • Let people know in the content with the video.

If there are sound effects that have meaning, then they need to be captioned.

What should you do about captions if a video with just music?

Well, it depends on the music. If there are lyrics heard, then they need to be captioned. Always. If the video contains music and no words, then describe the mood of the music: [foreboding music], [jaunty music], [orchestral music]. If the music changes mood, note the new mood.

Didn’t answer your question? Drop me a line.

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Image credit: sdvigger on Pixabay

6 thoughts on “Captioning Videos FAQ”

  1. Thank you for clear and complete answers to all of these questions, Meryl. I’m just starting and didn’t even know what questions to ask for much of this information. This will be a core resource for me to refer to as I dig in!


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