Best Practices for Online Subtitling
- Subtitles should appear and disappear exactly when the words are spoken. However, ensure captions appear on-screen long enough to be read.
- There should be two lines of text on screen at most.
- Set the minimum time of display to 1.5 seconds for very short dialogs (such as an answer to a question, "Okay"). These minimums do not apply in some cases with rapid dialogs.
- It's best to consider whether the audience will be able to read through your subtitles while still following the events in the video.
- If a lyric is repeated, create a gap between end of first lyric, and start of second repeated lyric. This ensures that there is a 'blink' on and off visually between each line to indicate to the viewer that the lyric is sung twice.
- Use a separate subtitle for each sentence of dialog. Avoid ending a sentence and begin a new sentence on the same line, unless the second sentence is very short in length.
- When translating from a different language, translate meaning and not just words, making sure to get the point across to the audience.
- Quotes by public figures should be captioned verbatim (word-for-word) whenever possible.
- Retain words like “but”, “so”, or “too”, as they are essential for expressing meaning.
- Ensure that all actual words are captioned, regardless of language, dialect, or slang.
- When speech is inaudible, put up a label explaining the cause. e.g. (traffic drowns speech)
- Show sound effect captions in lowercase italics enclosed in brackets. e.g. (dog barking) (child screaming)
- If there are multiple people talking, or the film cuts between people speaking, consider using the names of the people in the subtitles to identify the different speakers. e.g.
(John) What did you say?
(Sarah) I think this is great
- One method to indicate singing in a video is to have a space inserted after the beginning music icon (♪) and before the ending music icon(s). e.g. ♪ Buffalo soldier, in the heart of America ♪
- Another method used for music captioning is using a hashtag (#) at the beginning of each line to denote lyrics. e.g. # Buffalo soldier, in the heart of America #
- When people are seen talking, but there is no audio, caption as [no audio] or [silence].
- There are mixed views on including full stops / periods in subtitles. Film and TV productions generally do not use them, however many translators have found them useful when translating from original subtitles online and offline. Some believe that using periods at the end of sentences signals to the eye that it can go back to the image since there is no consecutive subtitle to anticipate.
- Question marks (?) and exclamation points (!) should be used to indicate a question or emphasis respectively, positioned right after the last character of a subtitle.
- Use a single space after commas, colons, semi-colons and mid-subtitle full-stops, on both sides of dashes (but not mid-word hyphens), before opening brackets and after closing brackets.
- Be consistent in the use of vocabulary that can be spelled in hyphenated form. eg. 'mid-level'.
- When a speaker is interrupted and another speaker finishes the sentence, the interruption should be conveyed by double hyphens or a single long dash.
- Use an ellipsis (...) when there is a significant pause within a caption. However, do not use an ellipsis to indicate that the sentence continues into the next caption.
- Use quotation marks for on-screen readings from a poem, book, play, journal, or letter. Also use quotation marks and italics for offscreen readings or voice-overs.
- Always start sentences in capital letters.
- Do not emphasize a word using all capital letters except to indicate screaming.
- Long numbers should usually be presented according to relevant conventions, eg telephone numbers (xxx-xxxx; xxx-xxx-xxxx) or other long numbers in groups of three (10,000 / 100,000).
- Always spell out all numbers from one to ten, but use numerals for all numbers over ten. e.g. "Tom wants ten balloons". "Tom wants 54 balloons".
- Use numerals when referring to technical and athletic terms. e.g. He scored 3 goals in today’s game!
- Use the numeral plus the lowercase “th,” “st,” or “nd” when a day of the month is mentioned by itself (no month is referred to). e.g. Bob went fishing on the 9th.
- Indicate time of day with numerals only. e.g. “ I awoke at 5:17. ” or “You must arrive by 6:25 p.m. ”
- A decade should be captioned as “the 1980s” (not “the 1980’s”) and “the ’50s” (not “the 50’s”).
- Subtitle lines should end at natural linguistic breaks, ideally at clause or phrase boundaries. e.g.
He said it would increase the
number of shareholders.
He said it would increase
the number of shareholders.
- Do not break a person’s name or title from within a line. e.g.
Bob and Susan
Miller are at the movies.
Bob and Susan Smythe
are at the movies.
Suzy and Professor
Barker are here.
Suzy and Professor Barker
- Do not break a line after a conjunction. e.g:
In seconds she arrived, and
he ordered a drink.
In seconds she arrived,
and he ordered a drink.
- Do not break an auxiliary verb from the word it modifies. Example:
Mom said I could
have gone to the movies.
Mom said I could have gone
to the movies.
Italics should be used to indicate the following:
- A voice-over reading of a poem, book, play, journal, letter, etc. (This is also quoted material, so quotation marks are also needed.)
- When a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing.
- When there is background audio that is essential to the plot, such as a PA system or TV.
- Offscreen dialogue, narrator (see Exception 2 below), sound effects, or music (this includes background music).
- The offscreen narrator when there are multiple speakers on-screen or offscreen.
- Foreign words and phrases, unless they are in an English dictionary.
- When a particular word is heavily emphasized in speech. e.g. You must leave!
- When a word is spoken phonetically, caption it the way it is commonly written. e.g.
“www dot D-C-M-P dot org”
“eight or nine hundred”
800 or 900
- Bold and underline are not permitted in subtitling.