How to Add Captions or Subtitles to a Video

screen captioning how to image

The rise of video in social media should be no surprise to anyone. We’ve all seen the bombardment of videos all over our computers and mobile devices, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. So, while we’re all aware of video’s surge, here are some hard numbers:

  • 67 percent of users watched more videos on social networks like Facebook and Snapchat than they did a year ago
  • Video will account for 70 percent of all mobile traffic by 2021
  • Adding video to your social feeds means audiences are 10x more likely to engage and share your posts

However, there’s a huge difference between doing video, and doing video well, and one of them is knowing when to use captions vs. sound.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on captions (or subtitles) to understand your video’s content. But there are a lot of other great reasons for using them, as well.

Turn down for what?

Have you ever been at work sneaking in a few quick Facebook status updates, or on the train or bus- trying to desperately hold onto what little privacy you have- when your phone starts blaring noise from some ad or FunnyOrDie clip? You’re not alone. One of the most annoying things you can find in your Facebook feed is a video that autoplays with the sound on.

Here’s Facebook’s take on the matter, stating the most obvious: “Our research found that when feed-based mobile video ads play loudly when people aren’t expecting it, 80 percent react negatively, both toward the platform and the advertiser” (Source)

Facebook found out that video generated content on social platforms is not the same as commercials on TV. “…it’s not TV ads. It’s TV ads with the sound turned off.” (Source). Users don’t want something that shouts at them; they want something that piques their interest without intruding on their enjoyment of the platform.

The age of captions

Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen captions and subtitles on videos or in movies either in the form of translation of the dialogue from one language to another, or simply a same-language presentation of dialogue and other audio events. One of the most widely-known uses for captions — closed captioning — is a way for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to access and understand the audio portions of a video.


While the terms “subtitles” and “captions” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. Technically, subtitles should convey only the dialogue or narration happening in a video. Subtitles used for translating one language to another would likely also include translations of any foreign language text shown on the screen.

Video with subtitles

Captions often convey dialogue and/or narration plus any other audio effects that may be present, such as when (and what type of) music is playing and any background noises such as loud crashes, cars honking or dogs barking that may be integral to understanding what’s happening on the screen. In fact, to meet accessibility standards, captions must include those elements.

Video with captions and an audio cue

Millennials consume video in a much different way than their parents or grandparents. To burst into their social bubbles, these videos need to adapt to be on their level. Enter the art of adding captions to video. Captions certainly are not a new concept for videos on TV, but they are a strategy that is proving more and more effective on all social media platforms. While scrolling through your social feeds with your sound turned off (which 85 percent of users do), most individuals will completely skip a video whose meaning is lost without sound. If they can’t hear it, then they won’t get it, so who cares?

However, when you add captions to videos, viewers are more likely to be drawn into it. Facebook’s internal tests show that captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12 percent. Anything you can do to capture a viewer’s attention — even seconds more than than they normally would — can add up. In fact, 74 percent of ad recall is achieved in 10 seconds of Facebook video campaigns. In a world without sound, captions are one of the best ways to increase those numbers. With these numbers, it’s no surprise why marketers are obsessed with Facebook video.

The rise of video isn’t just social

Facebook video is powerful, but video is on the rise in education and in the corporate world as well. As of 2015, 77 percent of U.S.-based companies offered online corporate training to improve professional development. With the non-social use of video, we also have to consider other reasons why captions are crucial. When you offer video-based training or learning, you need everyone to have access. Enter the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and compliance concerns. How can people who are deaf or hard of hearing learn from your video without being able to hear it? This is where video in particular can be a powerful tool, sound or not. Check out the below video explaining “Deaf Gain”:

Universities, community colleges, and even K-12 are also adopting eLearning tools rapidly and with open arms. Since 2000, growth in the eLearning industry has skyrocketed by 900 percent!  To put this in perspective, 64 percent of full-time faculty at community colleges teach distance education classes. The question we have to ask ourselves is not if we should adapt to video, but what can we do to make our videos the most accessible, engaging and effective as they can be?

Why add captions?

As noted above, the most common use for captions is to provide a text-based representation of any audio happening in a video. Subtitles are most often used for providing a text-based translation of dialogue. For accessibility purposes, all videos should have closed captions available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

But there are a lot of other reasons to use captions as well. One of the more practical reasons, especially for web videos, is so that people don’t need to have their volume turned up to understand the content of your videos. Imagine someone scrolling through their Facebook feed and coming upon a video. As that video auto-starts, they can’t hear it because their sound is turned off. They’re far more likely to scroll past that video (and miss all your great content) than if that same video contained captions or subtitles that conveyed the dialogue or narration.

The same is true for videos playing in places where there is a lot of ambient noise. If people can’t hear your video, the captions provide the content, no matter how noisy the room.

Don’t get caption crazy

Captioning is an effective tool when sound is not an option, but there will always be scenarios in which sound is simply required to communicate your message. Sometimes a teacher making an online video might want to personalize his or her video with their voice – add human warmth to an otherwise dry topic. Or add an air of authority to reinforce their lesson. Here’s an example of a student learning ESL – a scenario that would be impossible without the benefit of sound.  How would you caption a lesson on the violin? In many ways, captioning is the wave of the future and of enhanced video comprehension. That being said, some things can only be communicated by sound:

So, how do you add captions and subtitles to a video?

Most video editors have captioning capabilities. I’ll show the steps for adding video captions in Camtasia for Mac.

Step 1a: Start with a script

This step is more about saving time than anything else. If the narration or dialogue in your video was read from a script, you’re already way ahead of the game. You can use your script (or transcript) to copy and paste the spoken words into the captioning editor. When writing content for subtitling, these tips are also helpful to consider, such as reading speed and length. If you don’t have a script or transcript, skip to Step 1b.

Step 1b: Transcribe your video

If you don’t have a script, you may want a transcript of your video. There are a few ways to accomplish this. If you prefer to just type your captions or subtitles in manually, you can skip to Step 2.

  • You can watch your video and type out exactly what’s being said. This works fine if you have a short video (say, less than five minutes). But longer videos will become more difficult and will take far longer. Even the fastest typist will likely need to stop the video occasionally to ensure an accurate transcription.
  • You can send your video out for translation. There are a number of companies out there that specialize in transcription. A quick Google search will yield a ton of results.
  • Use your video editor’s speech-to-text feature. Many video editors (including Camtasia for Windows) feature speech-to-text ability for your video’s narration or dialogue. The accuracy of the transcription can be affected by a number of factors, including how much other noise is happening in the video, the overall quality of the audio and more. Overall, this is a great feature, but remember that you will definitely want to check the accuracy of the transcription before you share your video.
  • Use YouTube’s automatic transcription services. You can upload your video to YouTube and then download the transcript when it’s completed. As with any auto-transcription, you’ll want to review it carefully to verify its accuracy.

Step 2: Add a captions track to your audio track on the timeline

Step 3: Add your captions to the captions track

This is where having a script or transcription really saves time. Select the caption space on the timeline and a caption dialogue box will open below the video preview and the selected portion of the video will play. Then, just copy and paste the portion of the script that’s heard in the selected caption space. You can then click the right arrow button to move to the next caption space. Repeat until you have added all the captions.

If you don’t have a transcript or script, the process is very similar. However, instead of copying and pasting the appropriate portions of the script, you’ll type the corresponding narration or dialogue into the dialogue box. Make sure that you’re typing only what you hear in each selected portion of the video.

Step 4: Review for accuracy

As with any work meant for public consumption, you’ll want to make sure it’s accurate. Once you have added all the captions (and any other necessary audio cues) to your video, review a time or two to ensure the captions match up with the dialogue or narration as perfectly as possible.

Step 5: Produce and share!

Once you’re satisfied your captions are correct, you’re ready to share your video with the world.

Have you added captions or subtitles to your videos? If not, are you ready to give it a try? Download a free trial of Camtasia and give it a go!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Posted in Tips & How To's
Author
Ryan Knott

Ryan Knott is the Public Relations Specialist for TechSmith.
Follow him on Twitter @ryanknott and connect with him on Instagram where you'll mostly find photos of pit bulls and food.
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