About Captions

About Captions

Captions are text descriptions of the audio in multimedia, such as videos. Captions display the dialogue, identify speakers, describe music and sounds, and clarify tone.

Within the teaching and learning field, captions improve the delivery of instructional materials like screencasts and videos. They can help learners absorb information (by learning to spell and read better) and enhance the interactivity of course material.

There are two types of captions:

  • Open captions: Open captions are part of the video itself and are always on by default. The viewer can't turn the captions on or off.
  • Closed captions: Closed captions can be turned on or off by the viewer. They are the most common type of captioning used for television, movies, and videos.

Qualities of Good Captions

There are three characteristics of good captions: they must be equivalent, synchronized, and accessible.


Equivalency means that the captions displayed on the screen are the same as what is happening in the audio. Whether it is happy, delightful music or someone speaking, the captions must accurately portray the audio. Equivalent captions do not summarize what is said. Instead, they communicate with visual text the exact words spoken.


When captions are synchronized, the text displays at the precise moment that the words or sounds occur. There should not be any delay or misalignment.


Captions should be available for users when they are wanted or needed.

Benefits of Captions

There are several benefits of using captions:

  • They make multimedia content accessible for people with physical or learning disabilities.
  • They make it possible to watch multimedia in noisy environments, such as airports or public spaces.
  • They provide an alternative method for learners to perceive information that fits their learning style.
  • They help learners who don't speak English as a first language comprehend information.

Overall, including captions in videos improves the delivery and reception of multimedia content.

For more information about captions, see Add Captions.


Brogan, P., & Erler, K. (2009). Professional Development for Accessible Technology: Multimedia & Captioning: Captioning Webinar. The California State University Accessible Technology Initiative. https://teachingcommons.cdl.edu/access/docs_multi/CaptioningWebinar.shtml.

Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions. WebAIM. (2020, July 1). https://webaim.org/techniques/captions/.

Dooley, K. (2011, May 19). Video Captioning: How-To & Other Resources. SlideShare. https://www.slideshare.net/keirabytes/video-captioning-howto-other-resources.

What is the difference between open and closed captioning? DO-IT | Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology. (2021, April 8). https://www.washington.edu/doit/what-difference-between-open-and-closed-captioning.

Author: Katherine Baeckeroot

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