General Guidelines for Superior Subtitles

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, that Aberdeen implements in order to achieve quality subtitles.

• Subtitlers must work with a video copy of the production. They should be provided a glossary of unusual words, names, and special references.

• Where compression of dialogue is necessary, the results must be coherent.

• All important written information in the images (signs, notices, etc.) should be translated and incorporated wherever possible. Given the fact that many TV viewers are hearing-impaired, "superfluous" information, such as names, interjections from the off, etc., should also be subtitled.

• Songs must be subtitled where relevant.

• The in- and out-times of subtitles must follow the speech rhythm of the film dialogue, taking cuts and sound bridges into consideration.

• Language distribution within and over subtitles must consider cuts and sound bridges; the subtitles must underline surprise or suspense and in no way undermine it.

• The duration of all subtitles within a production must adhere to a regular viewer reading rhythm. No subtitle should appear for less than one second or, with the exception of songs, stay on the screen for longer than seven seconds.

• There must be a close correlation between film dialogue and subtitle content; source language and target language should be synchronized as far as possible.

• Subtitles should be highly legible with clear lettering and a font which is easy to read.

• The position of subtitles should be consistent.

• In video applications, character clarity can be enhanced by a drop shadow or a semi-transparent or black box behind the subtitles.

• The number of characters per line must be compatible with the subtitling system and visible on any screen.