Essential Guidelines for Mastering Subtitle Quality

With a growing awareness of the importance of closed captions and subtitles, there is a need for universal consistency and standards of excellence. Here are a few key guidelines, proposed by Mary Carroll and Jan Ivarsson in their 1992 book, Subtitling, that Aberdeen implements to achieve quality subtitles.

Video Copy and Glossary: Subtitlers should indeed work from a video copy of the production. Providing a glossary of unusual words, names, and specialized terms ensures accuracy and consistency across the subtitles.

Compression of Dialogue: When dialogue must be compressed for subtitling, it's essential that the meaning remains clear and coherent.

Translating On-Screen Text: All critical on-screen text, like signs or notices, should be translated. It's also beneficial to include what might be considered "superfluous" information, such as off-screen voices and names, to assist hearing-impaired viewers.

Subtitling Songs: Songs should be subtitled when they are relevant to the content or contribute to the understanding of the narrative.

Timing of Subtitles: Subtitles should align closely with the rhythm of the dialogue, editing cuts, and sound bridges in the film. They should appear and disappear in sync with the audio to preserve the natural flow of conversation.

Emphasizing Key Elements in Subtitles: Subtitles should effectively convey elements of surprise or suspense without undermining them. This involves careful placement and timing relative to the visual and auditory cues in the content.

Reading Rhythm: The duration of subtitles should accommodate the average viewer's reading speed—generally not appearing for less than one second or more than seven seconds, except in the case of songs.

Synchronization: There should be a close correlation between what is spoken in the film and what is subtitled, with efforts made to synchronize the source and target languages as closely as possible.

Legibility of Subtitles: Subtitles must be easy to read, with clear lettering and a suitable font. Techniques like adding a drop shadow or background box can enhance readability.

Consistency in Positioning: The placement of subtitles should be consistent throughout the production, aiding in viewer comprehension and minimizing distraction.

Character Limit: The number of characters per line should be compatible with the subtitling system and should be legible on any screen size.