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Closed Captioning Quality Guidelines

The West Virginia University Closed Captioning Quality Guidelines© have been designed by WVU's Office of Accessibility Services as a foundational set of standards designed to promote quality, accuracy, and clarity in the design of closed captions for use in higher education.

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If you would like to link to or use these guidelines on your own webpage, please contact us for permission.


Captioning is the process of converting audio into text and displaying that text so that it is synchronized with the original audio. Captions not only provide access to narration and dialogue, but also relevant sound effects and musical cues.

By law, an institution of higher education is required to provide closed captioning for any media that it makes available to the public. At West Virginia University, the Office of Accessibility Services provides captioning for students who are authorized to receive this accommodation in their classes. Custom video requests may also be submitted by members of the WVU community. These requests are not directly associated with a student’s accommodations.

Media captioned by OAS is done so in full compliance with the October 2021 United States Copyright Office exemption to Section 1201 Rulemaking of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and has been created in support of students with Disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The goal is for all captions to be errorless and complete.


Standard American English spelling should be used.

Every attempt should be made to research the correct spelling of unfamiliar proper nouns (persons and places). If you cannot determine the proper spelling than indicate uncertainty with a bracketed question mark: [?]

When choosing between multiple legitimate spelling options (such as vocabulary that may be spelled multiple ways), be consistent throughout the media.


It is common to spell out the numbers one through ten before switching to numerals. However, the most important rule is that you be consistent in how you choose to handle numbers throughout the media.

Time of day, calendar dates, and dollar amounts should always be indicated through the use of numerals.

Punctuation and Grammar

Standard American English punctuation rules apply to all captioning, this includes punctuation and grammar.


Standard capitalization practices should be followed at the beginning of sentences and with proper nouns.

ALL CAPS should be reserved for acronyms only and should not be used to indicate emphasis. (Use an exclamation mark!)


When captioning a list separated by commas, always use a serial (Oxford) comma.

Her favorite bands are The Struts, Prancer, and Ministry of Silly Walks.


When indicating a pause in speech, use an ellipsis (three periods with one space between each). Do not use ellipses at the end of a captioning line to indicate that the sentence continues into the next caption.


An em-dash or two consecutive hyphens ( --) may be used to indicate an interruption in speech patterns or someone being cut off. However, this mark of punctuation should be used sparingly, if at all, so as not to cause unnecessary confusion.

When using an em-dash, do not add extra spaces on either side of the symbol—doing so is incorrect.

Quotation Marks

Do not use quotation marks with every new speaker. Rather, reserve quotation marks for direct recitation of published works such as lyrics, poems, speeches, books, articles, and other publications.

Quotation marks may also be used when a speaker is directly quoting someone else verbatim. As an indicator of when this might occur, it is helpful to remember that this form of quotation is usually preceded by some form of the word “said.”

Other Symbols

Many symbols will not show up in closed captions, so it is important to check this early in the captioning process. In cases where symbols will not show up, it is appropriate to spell out the word (i.e., pi, delta, copyright, and so forth.)


All captions should be consistent and uniform in style, as well as visually readable.


Most captioning programs choose their own font selection. Font should always be set in such a way so that it is easy to read. It should not be too heavy or light. It should be large enough to read easily. Characters must be sans serif and spaced appropriately. A translucent box may be used against light backgrounds to ensure that the font is visible.


Captions should appear at the bottom of the screen, except when doing so would block important information, such as graphics.


Captions should not block the client from seeing what is happening on the screen and therefore should not take up more than two lines of text at a time. One line is preferable.


In order to be readable, captions must remain on the screen long enough for the consumer to read them. This can vary depending on the speed of the speaker, but we recommend that caption lines be long enough to allow the caption to remain on the screen for 1 second.

Captions should not remain on the screen for longer than 5 seconds.

Line Breaks

When a sentence is broken across multiple captions, it should be broken in a logical place, ideally at a point of punctuation or on a strong noun or verb (as opposed to a preposition, conjunction, helping verb, article, pronoun, adjective, adverb, or other minor unit of speech, which might “leave the consumer hanging” between captions).

Breaks with Modifiers

Do not separate a modifier from the word it modifies.


Prince's paramour drove a little, red

Breaks with Names and Titles

Do not separate a person's name or title.


Wildflowers is my favorite album by Tom

Breaks with Conjunctions

Do not end a caption line on a conjunction.


Melissa Etheridge went to her window, but
she did not wait by the light of the moon.

Breaks and Sentences

Do not start a new sentence in the middle of a caption line.


Nirvana instructs us to come as we are,
as we were. However, they do not

Nonverbal Cues


Any time a speaker’s manner of speech would be unclear, a clarifying indicator should be provided in square brackets. This includes situations when a speaker is not visible onscreen, and their emotional state is not evident in their dialogue.

[imitating a southern accent] Y'all come to see us bye and bye.
[angrily] We're the flowers in the dustbin!
[sardonically] You probably think this song is about you.

Avoid dialectical misspelling unless it is being used very intentionally by a speaker to make a point.


Music should be indicated whenever possible (though sustained playing of the same song between bits of narration does not need to be continually signaled). For generic instrumental music, some descriptor of the music should be provided. Use the word “music” rather than “playing” as a modifier.

[Mournful piano music.]

A note icon (♪) may be used to indicate the playing of music. If lyrics are audible and relevant, they should be included. All efforts should be made to identify the song and artist and to convey this information in square brackets.

[Bachman-Turner Overdrive singing "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"]
♪ You ain't seen nothin' yet.
B-b-b-baby, you just a-ain't s-seen n-n-nothin' yet ♪

Sound Effects

Specific sound effects, when relevant to what is happening on screen, should be included in square brackets.

[Audience hissing and booing.]

Speaker Identifiers

Speaker identifiers should be provided only when necessary to clarify who is saying what, as in the case of multiple speakers or speakers who are offscreen.

Narrator: So, when you're playing, you feel like a preserved moose onstage?

Existing Captions

If accurate captions already exist (or if a foreign language is being captioned already within media), do not provide captions for that portion of the media. Doing so will only block the existing captions.