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Captioning Key - Presentation Rate

  1. A Definition of Presentation Rate
  2. Specifications
  3. Guidelines

A Definition of Presentation Rate

The presentation rate is the number of captioned words per minute (wpm) that are displayed onscreen.

A reoccurring question about captioning is whether captions should be verbatim or edited. Among the advocates for verbatim are organizations of deaf and hard of hearing persons who do not believe that their right for equal access to information and dialogue is served by any deletion or change of words. Supporters of edited captions include parents and teachers who call for the editing of captions on the grounds that the reading rates necessitated by verbatim captions can be so high that captions are almost impossible to follow.

As the debate has continued, researchers have tackled the question. A bibliography of research on reading rates is provided in the Captioning Presentation Rate Research document on the Captioning Key Appendices page. DCMP supports editing based on research results and the DCMP's half-century of captioning experience. Editing is often essential to ensure that students have time to read the captions, integrate the captions and picture, and internalize and comprehend the message.

When editing occurs, each caption should maintain the meaning, content, and essential vocabulary of the original narration. DCMP media users, who are the families and teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, have enthusiastically praised the quality of the DCMP educational media and the captioning that provides equal access.


Each word is counted when calculating the presentation rate, as opposed to basing the calculation on the number of characters. In addition, speaker identification, sound effects, and other similar elements must be included in the calculations.

All lower-level educational media should optimally be captioned at a presentation rate not to exceed 130 words per minute (wpm), middle-level not to exceed 140 wpm, and upper-level not to exceed 160 wpm. However, as stated above, the original meaning, content, and essential vocabulary must be maintained. Achieving optimum rates is more difficult when complex new concepts and vocabulary are introduced in a media production.

The only times when presentation rate is ignored are when any person is quoted, a well-known or famous person is speaking on-screen or off-screen, poems and other published works are quoted, and/or song lyrics are sung. These must be captioned verbatim.


One way of achieving the desired presentation rate is by borrowing 15 frames before or after the audio occurs. This "borrowing" technique is hardly noticeable to the viewer.

An alternative way to achieve the rate is by editing. Following are two techniques for editing and examples:

  • Editing can be relatively simple by eliminating redundant and/or nonessential information. Following are examples of this approach:

    Original Narration

    Will you get out of here!


    Will you get out!

    Original Narration

    It is really, really difficult to find good help.


    It is really difficult
    to find good help.

    Original Narration

    That, uh, color--um, this shade of blue matches your eyes.


    This shade of blue matches your eyes.
  • Editing becomes more complex when it is necessary to move beyond the simple elimination of non-essential information and may involve shortening, deleting, or reordering words, phrases, or sentences. Such editing must maintain the original meaning, content, and essential vocabulary. Following are examples of this approach:

    Original Narration

    I found that it was a lot easier to keep track of the words and the lines.


    I found it much easier to keep
    track of words and lines.

    Original Narration

    And even though they're looking at the word, their focus is going elsewhere.


    They're looking at the word,
    but their focus is elsewhere.

    Original Narration

    And what we're saying is that people with dyslexia tend to get distracted by the words on either side.


    Words on either side tend to
    distract people with dyslexia.

    Original Narration

    They rely not only on the organic
    matter that's being produced,

    but also the complexity of the habitat
    to hide and escape from predators.


    They rely on organic matter
    that's being produced

    and habitat complexity
    to hide and escape from predators.
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