How to write closed captions for youtube

Open v. Closed Captioning

Your decision about whether to use open or closed captioning will depend on your video and where you’d like to publish it.

Choosing Between Open and Closed Captions

Open captions are embedded in the video itself. Closed captions are uploaded to a video hosting service and displayed by the video player when the viewer turns on closed captioning.

Open Captions Pros and Cons

  • Required for platforms that don’t support closed captioning, such as Instagram and TikTok
  • Harder for the editor to add to a video
  • Give the editor control over how and where captions display
  • Can’t be translated or turned off by the viewer
  • Scale according to video size and quality, so small videos may be hard to read

Closed Captions Pros and Cons

  • Supported by most platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube
  • Easiest to implement for the editor
  • May be customized by the viewer on some platforms
  • Can be translated and turned on or off by the viewer
  • Not offered by all platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok

YouTube Captions on UofSC Digital Products

YouTube is the preferred video hosting platform for all videos appearing on a UofSC digital product. While you can upload open captions through YouTube, the service offers auto-generated closed captioning and transcript that you can edit for accuracy.
Editing Auto-Generated YouTube Captions »

Writing Your Captions

You’ll need to follow specific steps for writing your captions, depending on whether you’ve chosen open or closed captioning.

Open Caption Writing

Write open captions in your video editing software of choice. Instructions will vary by platform, but usually there is a menu option under audio settings for captions.

Suggested Caption Writing Software Options
  • Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Captivate (subscription)
  • AegisSub or DivXLand (free software)
  • Amara or Subtitle Horse (in-browser editor)

Closed Caption Writing

Write closed captions in an .SRT (SubRip Transcript) file, which can be created and edited with any plain text editor. You’ll type what was said in your video, along with time codes for when each line of text should be displayed.

Formatting Your .SRT File
  • Use numbers to designate the order of captions.
  • To force a line break, use a blank line.
  • Use two dashes and a right arrow (– >) to indicate a time span.
  • To designate sounds, use square brackets. For example: [intro music].
  • Add two right arrows (>>) to identify speakers or a change of speaker.
  • For transcript documents in a language that is not English, save the file with UTF-8 encoding to improve display accuracy.
.SRT Sample Formatting

00:00:00 — > 00:00:04
>> INSTRUCTOR: Hi, class. Today we’ll be moving on to the next chapter, and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s turn to page

00:00:05 — > 00:00:10
>> STUDENT: Excuse me, can I ask about the homework first?

Uploading Your .SRT File to YouTube

YouTube is the university’s preferred hosting platform for videos that will appear on a UofSC digital product.

2. Follow the instructions on YouTube’s Add Your Own Closed Captions page to upload your .SRT file.

Instructions for Other Platforms
  • Vimeo Captioning
  • Facebook Captioning
  • Twitter Captioning
  • LinkedIn Captioning

Contact the digital accessibility liaison for your college or division. They can help you get answers to more complicated issues.
Find Your Accessibility Liaison »

Add Subtitles & Closed Captions in your YouTube Videos

Log into your YouTube account and upload your video.

Once the video is processed go to your Video Manager by clicking your account in the top right > Creator Studio > Video Manager.

Next to the video you want to add captions or subtitles to, click the drop-down menu next to the Edit button.

Select Subtitles and CC.

Choose the language for the subtitles or closed captions you want to create. Click the Add new subtitles or CC button.

You will be presented with three methods to caption the video:

To “Upload a file” use an accepted format created in Notepad and saved as a .srt file:

To “Transcribe and Auto-sync”, Type or paste in a full transcript of the video and subtitle timings will be set automatically.

To “Create new subtitles or CC”, Create subtitles and closed captions by typing them in as you watch the video.

When you get to the part where you want to add something, type your content into the box. Don’t forget to add text describing other sounds happening in the video. For example, you can add sounds like applause or thunder as [applause] or [thunder] so viewers know what’s going on in the video.

If you need to, adjust when the caption starts and ends by dragging the borders around the text under the video.

Repeat this process for all the spoken words in the video. If you don’t have time to finish the whole video, your changes will be saved in your drafts and you can pick up again later.

When you’re done, select Publish.

Use the link below to download a Microsoft Word doc with instructions and screen shots

Table of Contents

Video is currently one of the most popular content publishing formats. Many users find video more engaging and more comfortable to follow than reading lengthy blocks of text. Most videos, however, convey at least as much substance through audio components as they do via visual elements. Care must be taken not to exclude the large number of users out there with hearing impairments. That’s where closed captioning comes into play.

Closed captioning has existed for several decades. It provides the text equivalent of audio content to viewers by superimposing text on the bottom of the screen in sync with the video that is playing. Hearing-impaired users can read the text captions while simultaneously watching the visual action.

A note about standards

In the early days of web accessibility, offering a transcript of audio content was considered “good enough.” Now, however, transcripts are considered inadequate according to both the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines as well as most accessibility experts.

It’s important to provide users with video and audio content that’s synchronized. When a hearing-impaired user has to watch visuals within the video while also trying to follow a separate transcript, it’s hardly a great experience. So, although offering a transcript is better than nothing, closed captions are the accepted best practice. And, as we’ll see later, several shortcuts make adding closed captions much easier than it was in the past.

What not to caption

Videos that contain no audio, only music or only ambient noise do not need substantial captions. For example, if a video is silent, you can add a note to the video’s description (outside of the player). Or, add a caption to the beginning that reads “Silent Throughout” or something similar.

Likewise, if a video is set to music, add a note or a caption that reads “Music Throughout.” Even better, you might add details to the alert that read “Dramatic Music,” “Upbeat Music,” etc. Another example of a video that does not require major captioning would be a speech or presentation where a sign language interpreter is clearly visible within the frame.

Write captions that you would want to read

To see examples of how not to caption, turn captions on for a movie from the 1980s or earlier when watching Hulu or Netflix. The captions will likely be out of sync, riddled with typos, and lacking much-needed punctuation.

Would you want to read that?

Luckily, programming created over the last 10–15 years tends to be much better (not including computer-generated captions that accompany some live broadcasts which still tend to need more work). Creating quality closed captions is not mysterious. Correctly using punctuation and capitalization (but avoiding all caps) is a good start.

Experts will differ on how faithful to be to the audio content. For example, if a video depicts a performance where there is applause from the audience, that might be important enough to include in the captions. Typically, non-speech audio is enclosed in brackets of some kind or .

You might choose to omit other ambient noises, however. If you’ve recorded a webinar and a bird was chirping incessantly outside the window, you should ask yourself whether that needs to be included. Try to exercise common sense and decide what would be necessary for hearing-impaired users to know. Maybe if someone in the webinar makes a joke about the bird, include it’s chirping in the captions. Otherwise, it probably will not help the viewer to know the bird was there.

Perhaps more controversially, you can also make judgment calls about actual speech. For example, if a webinar narrator spends 15 full seconds searching for words and stopping and starting over, you might decide to edit out some of the unnecessary speech. It depends on your viewpoint and the content you are captioning.

Design with captioning in mind

Workflow shortcuts

YouTube and other video hosting services have introduced terrific innovations over the last few years to make creating quality closed captions easier. For example, if you have a script of the audio content for a video — which is quite common with webinar videos — you can upload it along with your video. YouTube’s artificial intelligence (AI) engine will generate closed captions from the script and even attempt to synchronize it with the visual content. Often, some tweaking and editing are needed. But this tool does a ton of the initial heavy lifting for you.

Alternatively, YouTube’s AI will also generate a set of automatic captions for any video uploaded. These captions are not published automatically, and should never be published without first proofing them. The AI will inevitably make mistakes, and some of these mistakes can be embarrassing. Still, the automatic captions do a lot of the grunt work for you. While editing and proofing are required, it’s a huge time-saver versus manually typing captions.

What if you don’t host your videos on YouTube or another hosting service? You can actually still piggy-back on YouTube’s technology. During the captioning process, YouTube also generates a captions file. To get to it, upload your video, edit the automatically-generated captions, and then download the finished captions file. You can then embed that caption file along with the video file wherever you ultimately want it hosted.

Do you have any other closed captioning advice? Examples of a company or brand that does it really well? Let us know in the comments below!

Michigan Technological University is dedicated to providing equal access opportunities for all students, employees, and members of the public to University information and communication technologies (ICT)—including video.

University Marketing and Communications (UMC) supports Policy 1.15 by requiring that all video content posted to the Michigan Tech YouTube account or public webpages includes closed captions and—where necessary—audio descriptions.

UMC manages acquiring captioning services for projects we lead. Rare exceptions may occur for especially long videos or videos with complex visual content that is not spoken.

With our large following on YouTube, we often receive requests to post videos created by others. We are able to do so when the content meets our brand standards and timed captions are provided in an SRT/VTT file. Please ensure that provided captions are at least 95% accurate.

Note that an SRT/VTT file is not the same as a transcript. Time stamps are necessary to display words on screen using the proper timing.

Creating Caption Files

There are a few different methods to create or acquire captions for your video projects.

Vendor Led Projects

Departments or groups using a video content vendor can build the captioning requirement into their contract. You or your vendor can submit your MP4 and caption file.

Caption Self-Creation

Departments or groups can create their own caption file using a program that syncs the transcript (spoken and visual content that you input or import) with the appropriate timing in your video.


The subtitles editor in YouTube is a popular and free option. Video creators can set up a free YouTube account, make their video content private, and use YouTube’s subtitles editor to create closed captions or add timing to an existing untimed transcript file.

In some cases, when the audio in your video is clear and the pacing is reasonable, using YouTube’s auto-generated closed captions may be a great starting point. Make sure to review and edit auto-generated closed captions to correct timing, punctuation, and wording. Auto-generated closed captions without human correction do not meet the legal requirement for accessibility. Please ensure that provided captions are at least 95% accurate.

Once your captions are accurately crafted and timed, you can download the SRT/VTT file to provide to UMC:

  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. From the left menu, select Subtitles.
  3. For the language you’d like to use, hover your mouse in the Subtitles column, click the vertical ellipsis (Options), and then select Download –>.
  4. Choose .srt or .vtt and your download will begin.
  5. Submit your caption file

If you are creating video content using Zoom, you can use certain settings to automatically generate captions (called audio transcription in Zoom). Remember that you must review and correct any mistakes and add any missing visual content yourself. Once your cloud recording and audio transcription is done processing and is corrected, download and submit your MP4 and caption file.

Other Captioning Software

While our experiences are limited to using YouTube, other closed captioning software is available online or for download.


Departments and groups can outsource their captioning needs. For example, UMC uses a third-party captioning vendor—3Play Media—to generate closed captions and audio descriptions. Prices vary, but usually include a base fee of a couple dollars plus a set fee per minute of video footage. Turnaround time can vary from days to weeks and a quicker turnaround increases the cost. YouTube notes a few other popular captioning vendors. Download and submit your MP4 and caption file.

UMC Creation

If you or your vendor is unable to provide the SRT or VTT file, UMC can process the captioning for you through our account with a third-party vendor. Prices are approximate and can change without notice. Your department account will be charged the actual costs according to the vendor invoice plus a $50 design fee. Request closed captions for a video to be posted on the University’s YouTube channel.