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Transcription Guidelines for Captioning

October 13, 2008

A very important part of the captioning process is the initial transcription of the programming. If the captioning company uses first-rate transcribers, the quality of the captioning is inevitably superior to companies that use subpar transcribers. 

There are many ways the transcription can get completed. Some companies choose to have the same person who transcribes the program also perform the editing, syncing, and placement of the captions. Although this may be the most economical way to caption, it doesn't allow for a second or third quality control of the captioning. The more people involved in the closed captioning process, the better the overall quality of the captioning will be. It’s recommend that when you contract with a captioning company, you ask them who does their transcription.

If you really want forecast the quality of work you may expect from a captioning company, ask them what transcription guidelines they follow. Where did they come up with the guidelines? Are the guidelines tested by the viewing public? Did they make up the guidelines themselves without any research? If they don't have any guidelines or they made them up with no research to back it, you know you are not using the right company. Ask them about their certification process. Unfortunately, all captioning companies use different standards and guidelines (if any at all), but here are some general guidelines (many of these guidelines follow DCMP) transcribers should be following:

Spacing

Spacing should be as follows:

Incorrect

Correct

-What did she say ?

-What did she say?

-[ gun firing ]

-[gun firing]

-Left unsaid — we just talked.

-Left unsaid—we just talked.

-I’m happy … thank you.

-I’m happy…thank you.

 

Numbers

Numbers one through ten are spelled out. Numbers 11+ are numerals.

Incorrect

Correct

-The fifty-four videos need to be shelved.

-The 54 videos need to be shelved.

-There were 10 people in the crowd. 

-There were ten people in the crowd.

Spell out any number that begins a sentence, as well as any other numbers in the sentence.

Incorrect

Correct

-200 tourists and 11 guides entered.

-Two hundred tourists and eleven guides entered.

Spell out casual, non-emphatic numbers.

Incorrect

Correct

-He gave me 100s of reasons.

-He gave me hundreds of reasons.

Numerals with four digits can either have a comma or not.  Be consistent throughout the show. For numerals having over five digits, a comma is necessary.

Incorrect

Correct

-50000

-50,000

Never mix numerals and spelled out numbers in one sentence.  Use numerals in a listing of numbers if one or more is above ten and these occur in one caption or one sentence.

Incorrect

Correct

-Steven has 21 books, 11 oranges, and three
cats.

-Steven has 21 books, 11 oranges, and 3 cats.

 

Measurements

All measurements (i.e. inches, feet, yards, centimeters, et cetera) are numerals.

Incorrect

Correct

-The pencil is three inches long. 

-The pencil is 3 inches long. 

Spell out “inches,” “feet,” “yards,” “miles,” “ounces,” “pounds,” “tablespoons,” et cetera. Do not use abbreviations.

Incorrect

Correct

-The table is 6 ft. long. 

-The table is 6 feet long.

However, if spoken in short form, symbols should be used.

Incorrect

Correct

-I’m five eight.

-I’m 5’8”.

 

Time

Time units (i.e. hours, minutes, seconds, days, years, centuries, et cetera) are considered measurements and should always be numerals.

Indicate the time of day with numerals only.

Incorrect

Correct

-I awoke at five seventeen.

-I awoke at 5:17.

-If you wish to attend, you must arrive by
six twenty-five p.m.

-If you wish to attend, you must arrive by
6:25 p.m.

-We were expected to report no later than
fourteen hundred hours.

-We were expected to report no later than
1400 hours.

-I awoke at four o’clock.

-I awoke at 4 o’clock.

-I awoke at four in the morning.

-I awoke at 4 in the morning.

Always use numerals with a.m. or p.m. Double zeros are not necessary to indicated minutes of the hour when a whole number is used with a.m. or p.m.

Incorrect

Correct

-She leaves at three twenty p.m. for the
airport.

-She leaves at 3:20 p.m. for the airport.

-Our hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

-Our hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Money

Use the dollar sign plus the numeral for dollar amounts under one million.  For even dollar amounts of one million or greater, spell out “million,” “billion,” et cetera.

Incorrect

Correct

-John brought only 11 dollars.

-John brought only $11.

-Bob brought six dollars and 12 cents.

-Bob brought $6.12.

-The budget of 13 thousand dollars will be
sufficient.

-The budget of $13,000 will be sufficient.

-Taxes will be reduced by a total of
13,000,000 dollars

-Taxes will be reduced by a total of $13
million.

-He owes 13 million, six hundred and
fifty-six thousand dollars.

-He owes $13,656,000.

 

Percentages

Use numerals and the percent sign to indicate all percentages except at the beginning of a new sentence.

Incorrect

Correct

-Middle of sentence

-Middle of sentence

-Only six percent of the votes were counted.

-Only 6% of the votes were counted.

-The 18.9 percent figure was considered
incorrect.

-The 18.9% figure was considered incorrect.

-Smithy’s having a 20 to 30 percent sales
event!

-Smithy’s having a 20% to 30% sales event!

-Beginning of sentence

-Beginning of sentence

-51% of the people voted “yes.”

-Fifty-one percent of the people voted “yes.”

-33% was taken off the final markdown.

-Thirty-three percent was taken off the final markdown.

-10% to 20% of college students are Latinos.

-Ten to twenty percent of college students
are Latinos.

 

Scriptures

Verse and chapter references are always numerals.

Incorrect

Correct

-Mark eight, ten

-Mark 8:10

Scriptures are always written, not exactly how the speaker says them, but in the commonly seen form.

Incorrect

Correct

-Turn to Galatians chapter six, verses
nine and ten.-

-Turn to Galatians 6:9-10. 

 

Double Dash Usage

Double dashes are used for the following instances:

  • Break in thought

Example: SO THE CELEBRITIES--THESE GUYS ARE EXERCISING POWER THERE.

  • Error in speech

Example: ME AND MICHAEL NOW, WE'RE--WE STILL DON'T KNOW EACH OTHER.

  • Incomplete sentence

Example:  I GREW UP--I LOVED THE BEATLES.

  • Speaker is interrupted mid-sentence by another speaker

Example: >> THE OTHER PERSON NOT GOING TO SLEEP AT 7:30 IN THE CHAIR BEFORE THE MOVIE GETS-->> YOU DON'T DO THAT, DO YOU, GAVIN?

 

Ellipse Usage

Ellipses are used for the following instances:

  • To direct the viewer to watch something on the screen.

Example: CALL OUR TOLL-FREE PHONE NUMBER AT... (The phone number is on-screen and very large.)

  • Speaker is demonstrating an act.

Example: THEN CARRIE OPENED HER MOUTH LIKE THIS...

  • Only use ellipses when the scripture graphic is full screen and exactly verbatim. It is hardly ever exactly what the speaker says, so this will most likely be written.

Example: MARK 5 SAYS…

  • A very long pause mid-sentence. Only do this if the pause adds an effect or changes the meaning. The mid-sentence pause must be at least a 3-5 second pause to call for ellipses.

Example: AND THEN I LOOKED IN HER EYES AND…I COULDN’T TELL IF SHE REALLY LOVED ME. (In this circumstance, the speaker is really pondering about this and the ellipses add a special effect.)

 

Slash Usage

  • In captioning, we hardly use slashes.  The main examples are words that are in the dictionary with slashes are “and/or” and “24/7.”

Note:  For more specific guidelines and more examples, see DCMP guidelines.  If you are unsure about an English rule, please reference other reference books such as: The Chicago Manual of Style or The Gregg Reference Manual.

 

Transcribing Songs

Here is the ideal way for transcribers to caption songs, especially when the audio goes in and out of singing and talking. These guidelines are set to help the caption editor fix the caption file.

When you hear music, write [music] with no chevrons in front of it. Then, if the speaker starts talking instead of singing, write: >> Talk talk.  Then, when he starts singing, write: [music] again
with no chevrons and then write the lyrics with no chevrons. Writing [music] gives the caption editor the hint, and they can leave it in there or take it out depending on the time that the music allows.

Example:

[music] (You may write it in the beginning because the piano has started to play or something)

>> Come on, sing it with me, folks.

[music] 

Praise his name; praise the precious name of Jesus.

la di da di do.... et cetera...

>> Let's hear it ya'll.  Everybody sing!

[music]

Glory to His name. Glory to the name of Jesus.

To help you remember this, just think that the caption editor is wrapping the lyrics with music notes, so they need to know when they are singing and when they are not singing before they listen to the song.

Other points to remember:

  • Do not write chevrons with the lyrics even if there are different singers throughout, only when they break from singing to speaking.  It is very important that when the song ends you put
    chevrons when the first speaker comes on after the song.
  • Do not put quotation marks in songs.  It's different than when they are speaking; it looks funny in the song. Do not transcribe back-up singers; only the main singer.

Here’s an example from a program of how we caption songs.

>> THANK YOU FOR YOUR FRIENDSHIP, JESUS.

[MUSIC]

I'M A WARN AND WEARY

TRAVELER.

I HAVE WALKED SO MANY MILES

THOUGH THE PATH IS LONG AND

WINDY.

THANK GOD, THE LORD HAS BEEN

THERE ALL THE WHILE.

THE ROAD HAS LED ME ON 

 A JOURNEY, A DISTANT LAND SO

FAR FROM HOME, BUT I HAVE NO

CAUSE FOR FEAR FOR MY LORD

IS ALWAYS NEAR.

I HAVE NEVER WALKED ALONE.

>> THANK GOD.

I HAVE NEVER WALKED

ALONE.

>> THANK YOU LORD, THANK YOU LORD.

I HAVE HELD A SECRET.

>> HE'S ALWAYS THERE.

HE WILL LEAD ME SAFELY HOME

TO THE SHORES

OF THE LAND.

AND THOUGH I HAVE

TO WALK BY FAITH.

>> THAT'S THE KEY TO IT ALL.

THROUGH IT ALL,

I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN.

 

What Does Verbatim Mean?

In Merriam��Webster’s Online Dictionary it defines verbatim as: In the exact words: word for word.

Basically, in captioning we must make sure that we caption exactly what the speaker says to convey the most accurate message to the viewer. The deaf viewer does not have special privileges—they do not get to read perfected grammar while the hearing viewer listens to poor grammar.  Consider a movie:  One of the characters is an immigrant from a foreign country and speaks broken English.  If we correct their grammar, the deaf viewer is being conveyed a completely different message which can entirely change the storyline.

Here are some examples:

Incorrect

Correct

-I am not going anywhere.

-I ain’t going nowhere.

-I just sort of held my knees in water, and
pulled him across my knees and examined him. 

-I just sort of held me knees
in water, and pulled him across me knees and examined him.

-I’m going to get you.

-I’m gonna getcha.

-Let’s call them.

-Let’s call ‘em.

-I’m singing and dancing.

-I’m a singin’ and a dancin’.

 

Editing out the stutters

Even though our captions are verbatim, we do not caption any stuttering.  Stuttering can make a program very difficult to follow if it is included in the captions. 

Here are some examples:

Incorrect

Correct

-T--T--T--TURN--TURN--TURN--TURN WITH
ME TO CHAPTER 6.

-TURN WITH ME TO CHAPTER 6.

-I SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT AND I, UH, UH,
YOU KNOW AND YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW, YOU--YOU’RE TRYING TO MAKE SURE YOU GET
IT. 

-I SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT AND I--YOU KNOW,
YOU’RE TRYING TO MAKE SURE YOU GET IT.

 

Helpful Online resources (helpful when a difficult spelling needs to be researched)

Holman Bible Dictionary

BibleGateway

Merriam-Webster Online

Chicago Manual of Style

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