More Than Words: Your Comprehensive Guide to Captioning Video Content



Effective captioning can open your content to wider audiences, and encourage viewers to watch it longer.

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As you continue to create video content for your brand, do you know if everyone can enjoy it in equal measure?

Are you sure?

Between the fact that most videos autoplay for users across social media without sound, and the statistic that 466 million individuals worldwide identify as deaf or otherwise hearing impaired, the content we create needs to be wholly understandable in the absence of sound. For many users, captions on video can address this issue- which is likely why many social media platforms (waiting on you, Instagram…) have risen to the occasion, making captioning easy to include when you upload your content.

You may be wondering, why can’t I use auto-captioning features? YouTube and Facebook have each developed AI that can do some of this work for you. But because it is in its earliest stages, it’s far from spot-on in its interpretation. It struggles with fast speech, speech with an accent, and can often misidentify background sounds. Watching a video once, I saw the screeching of a crashing car interpreted as “applause,” an embarrassing miss that can cause dissonance for a viewer. Don’t leave the comprehension of your message to as-yet unsophisticated AI; guarantee your message is interpreted correctly by taking the captioning into your own hands.

The majority of these sites ask for a SRT (or SubRip Subtitle) file; today, we’ll show you how to create one—as well as a few elements you should be sure to include.

Low-Tech Origins

SRT files are created in a text editor; think Notepad, TextEdit, or Notepad++. These utilities come default on Macs and PCs, but a similar type of app or extension may need to be downloaded for Chromebook users. Options include TextEditor for Drive, or the TextEditor extension.

From there, you’ll need to break down the number of subtitle “blocks” you’ll need. Each should be numbered, starting from 1. Within these blocks, you’ll specify what text (or other sounds, more on that in a moment) happens within a specific timeframe. The more specific the timeframe is, the smoother the text will seem to move with the video.

Setting the Scene

For each block, you’ll need to note the start and end time of the captioned text. Below the block number, cite that range of time in an hours:minutes:seconds,milliseconds format. And below that, you’ll insert the text that you want the viewer to see during that timeframe. For example:

00:00:00,00 –> 00:00:04,576
Hello there, and welcome!

00:00:04,577 –> 00:00:10,803
I can’t wait to share this latest update to our program with you.

A few key points to notice here: whereas most of us are accustomed to notating a passage of time with a dash or em dash, it must be done here with an arrow (two dashes, followed by a greater than sign). And second, ensure that there is a paragraph break between numbered blocks to guarantee that they advance as the video goes on.

When saving the text in your editor, replace the .txt file extension with .srt, and confirm the choice in any subsequent pop-up notifications. This file can then be uploaded alongside your video on the platforms that support it. It should be noted, most third-party tools where video could be shared (Buffer, Hootsuite, TweetDeck) don’t have the capacity to support an accompanying SRT file, which means you’ll have to add it in the native app.

More Than Words

Captioning can be about more than just the words in the video. As such, here are a few final tips to make sure you fully convey the sound experience in your captions:

  • Aim for 1-2 lines of text within a listed time range. Any more, and the viewer may not be able to read the caption in time for it to advance.
  • Include sounds and sound effects that pop up in the background, bracketed as if they’re stage directions. For example, “[laughter]” or “[chair scrapes the floor]”.
  • If a person is mouthing words but not actually speaking, note that in brackets. Absent that, a person will appear to be speaking and the viewer might be worried they’re missing crucial context.
  • Posting a soundwave preview of a podcast or audio snippet? These clips need captions too! Amp up the potential of this preview by letting viewers “read along” with these short segments of the full show (which should, in turn, be transcribed).

It’s easy to marvel at our video content, completed in all of its audio-visual glory. And yet, according to a 2016 Facebook Business study, 41% of videos on their platform don’t make sense without the sound. A secondary statistic? Videos with captions are watched 12% longer. Let as many viewers as possible marvel alongside you at the content you’ve created—by making your video accessible to as many people as possible.

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