How to caption a film for deaf / hard-of-hearing audiences


Good captioning is an art that requires negotiating conflicting requirements. On the whole, you should aim for captions that are faithful to the audio. However, you will need to balance this against considerations such as the action on the screen, speed of speech, or editing and visual content.

There is no set of hard rules for creating subtitles. Here, we provide some guidelines and practical advice.

If you are not deaf or hard-of-hearing yourself, you need to put yourself in the mind of someone who is. Ask yourself:

What would I need to know to understand and enjoy the film without the soundtrack?

As well as the dialogue, what other important information is communicated through the sound?

You should never deprive the viewer of words or sounds when there is time to include them and there is no conflict with the visual information.


Line Breaks

Each subtitle should comprise a single complete sentence.

Exceptions to this rule:

Identifying speakers

With two speakers, put each piece of speech on a separate line and insert a dash before each piece of speech, thereby clearly distinguishing different speakers' lines. e.g.:

- Did you see that?
- Yeah, a flying saucer!

If the speaker is off screen and you can't tell who's speaking from the picture alone, prefix the caption with their name in CAPS:

DERRICK: Hey guys!

For voiceover, use a label NARRATOR::

NARRATOR: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.


Intonation and emotion

Sound effects

Caption effects only when necessary to understand the action.


All music that is part of the action, or significant to the plot, must be indicated in some way.

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