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Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

Captioning Tip Sheet

The Captioning Tip Sheet is intended as a quick reference for captioners. View the DCMP Captioning Key for a comprehensive and accessible reference for captioning.

Caption Placement

  • Placement must not interfere with existing visuals/graphics.
  • Captions must be left-aligned.
  • No more than two lines per caption.
  • Place all captions within the safe zone (or safe area).
  • In the case where essential sound effects are used simultaneously with dialogue that is captioned, the captions that identify the sound effects should be placed at the top of the screen.
  • When a person is thinking or dreaming, place the italicized caption(s) above the speaker's head and add a description in brackets, such as the word "thinking," above the captioned thoughts.

Line Division

  • Do not break a modifier from the word it modifies.
  • Do not break a prepositional phrase.
  • Do not break a person's name nor a title from the name with which it is associated.
  • Do not break a line after a conjunction.
  • Do not break an auxiliary verb from the word it modifies.
  • Do not end one sentence and begin a new one on the same line.


  • Characters need to be a font similar to Helvetica medium, easily readable, include upper- and lowercase letters with descenders that drop below the baseline, and have a spacing technique that does not allow overlap with other characters.
  • The use of a translucent box is preferred.


  • Editing is performed only when a caption exceeds a specified presentation rate limit. Proper editing should maintain both the original meaning, content, essential vocabulary, and meet presentation rate requirements.
  • Redundant and nonessential information can be removed.
  • Caption the following verbatim: when a person is quoted, a well-known or famous person is speaking onscreen, poems and other published works are quoted, and/or song lyrics are sung.
  • Do not caption the same, or nearly the same, information that is already shown onscreen.


  • To check spelling and capitalization, use Merriam-Webster Online as a primary source. Do not use British spellings or punctuation.
  • Do not emphasize a word using all capital letters except to indicate screaming.
  • Be consistent in the spelling of words throughout the media.


  • When captioning music, use objective descriptions that indicate the mood. Avoid subjective words, such as "delightful," "beautiful," or "melodic."
  • If music contains lyrics, caption the lyrics verbatim. The lyrics should be introduced with the name of the vocalist/vocal group, the title (in brackets) if known/significant, and if the presentation rate permits.
  • Caption lyrics with music icons (♪). Use one music icon at the beginning and end of each caption within a song, but use two music icons at the end of the last line of a song.
  • For background music that is not important to the content of the program, place a music icon in the upper right corner of the screen.


  • Nonessential information that needs special emphasis should be conveyed by double hyphens or a single long dash.
  • When a speaker is interrupted and another speaker finishes the sentence, the interruption should be conveyed by double hyphens or a single long dash.
  • When a speaker stutters, caption what is said.
  • Use an ellipsis when there is a significant pause within a caption.
  • Use an ellipsis to lead into or out of audio relating to an onscreen graphic.
  • Use quotation marks for onscreen readings from a poem, book, play, journal, or letter. Italicize offscreen readings or voice-overs.
  • Beginning quotation marks should be used for each caption of quoted material except for the last caption. The last caption should have only the ending quotation mark.
  • Use italics to indicate the following: an offscreen voice-over reading, when a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing, when there is background audio that is essential to the plot, the first time a new word is being defined, offscreen dialogue, narrator (but only if there is more than one person speaking in a production), sound effects, or music (this includes background music).

Sound Effects

  • A description of sound effects, in brackets, should include the source of the sound, but eliminate description if the source of the sound is visible onscreen.
  • Include onomatopoeia when possible.
  • Place the description of the sound effect as close as possible to the sound source.
  • Use punctuation to indicate speed or pace of sound.
  • Caption background sound effects only when they're essential to the plot.
  • Use specific rather than vague, general terms to describe sounds.

Speaker Identification

  • When possible, identify the speaker by placing the caption under the speaker.
  • When a speaker cannot be identified by placement and his/her name is known, the speaker's name should be in parentheses. Also, the speaker's name needs to be on a line of its own, separate from the captions.
  • When a speaker cannot be identified by placement and his/her name is unknown, identify the speaker using the same information a hearing viewer has (e.g., "female #1," "male narrator").
  • If there is only one narrator, identify as (male narrator) or (female narrator) at the beginning of the media. (It is not necessary to identify gender for each caption thereafter.)
  • When an actor is portraying another person or character, identify the actor as the person being portrayed.


  • Caption the actual foreign words. If it is not possible to caption the words, use a description (e.g., [speaking French]). Never translate into English.
  • Use accent marks, diacritical marks, and other indicators.
  • Indicate regional accent at the beginning of the first caption.
  • Keep the flavor of dialect and the speaker's language.
  • When a word is spoken phonetically, caption it the way it is commonly written.


Revised December 2013

Captioning Key

DCMP's Captioning Key is quick and easy to access when you have captioning questions.

Captioning Key logo. Image of yellow skeleton key.

Tags: captioning, manuals-and-guidelines

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