Visit  the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) Captioning Key for more detailed guidelines.



  • Mixed case characters are preferred for readability
  • Use capital letters for shouting not for emphasis.


  • White Characters on a dark translucent background
  • Medium weight, sans serif font
  • A drop or rim shadow
  • Proportionally spaced, avoid overlap with other characters

Line Division

  • Do not break a modifier from the word it modifies
  • Do not break a prepositional phrase
  • Do not break a person’s name or the title from the name with which it is associated
  • Do not break a line after a conjunction
  • Do not break an auxiliary verb from the word it modifies
  • Never end a sentence/begin a new sentence on the same line unless they are short, related sentences containing only one or two words

Caption Placement

  • Multi-lined captions should be left aligned when technically possible
  • Captions are placed on the bottom two lines
  • It is preferred that there are no more than two lines per caption
  • If placing captions at the bottom of the screen interferes with visuals/graphics, place captions elsewhere on the screen where they do not interfere
  • Place all captions with reasonable margins
  • Placement should not interfere with names, faces, or mouths of speakers or text/graphics that are essential to the comprehension of the media
  • Speaker identification should be used

Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar

Spelling and Capitalization

  • Be consistent in the spelling of words throughout the media
  • Capitalize proper nouns for speaker identification
  • Lowercase sound effects, including both descriptions and onomatopoeia. Except when a proper noun is part of the description

Punctuation and Grammar

  • When captioning a list separated by commas, use a serial, or Oxford, comma
  • When a speaker hesitates or stutters, caption what is said
  • Do not use an ellipses to indicate that the sentence continues into the next caption
  • Use an ellipsis when there is a significant pause within a caption
  • Use  quotation marks only for on screen readings from a poem, book, play, journal, or letter
  • Beginning quotation marks should be used for each caption of quoted material except for the last caption
  • Use italics:
    • When a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing
    • There is a background audio that is essential to the plot, such as a PA system or TV
    • The first time a new word is being defined
    • There is off-screen  dialogue,  narrator, sound effects, or music
    • For foreign words and phrases, unless they are in an English dictionary
    • When a particular word is heavily emphasized in speech

Sound Effects and Music

Sound Effects

  • Describe sound effects in present tense
  • A description of sound effects, in brackets, should include the source of the sound. However, the source may be omitted if it can be clearly seen onscreen
  • The described sound effect should be on the first line of the caption, separate from the onomatopoeia
  • Described sound effects and onomatopoeia must be lowercased
  • Caption background sound effects only when they are essential to the content


  • Do not caption background music with a duration under 5 seconds
  • A description(in brackets) should be used for instrumental/background music when it’s essential to the understanding of the program
  • If possible, the description should include the performer/composer and the title
  • Use descriptions that indicate the mood


  • Caption the lyrics verbatim
  • Lyrics should be introduced with the name of the artist and the title in brackets, if the presentation rate permits
  • Caption lyrics with music icons
  • Use one music icon at the beginning and end of each caption within a song, but use two music icons at the end of the last line of a song

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