The ins and outs of sound effects in captioning!

I still sometimes find choosing when or how to add the correct sound effect or speaker ID, when creating closed captions, challenging. Using the proper sound effect and/or speaker ID plays such a paramount role in the enjoyment and understanding of the media.

Blog - sound effects
There are also different specifications regarding the appearance of the caption. A constant question that arises in my training is ‘When should I use square or round brackets?’

I can only give my advice on my experience of course, so I have put this article together which I hope you will find useful.

Sound effects are sounds other than dialogue or music. We caption the sounds if they are plot pertinent and if it is necessary for the understanding and/or entertainment of the content.

  1. What about the appearance?

In captions/subtitles, we place a description of sound effect, in brackets. Nowadays, it is more common practice to use square brackets [ ] to enclose the sound effect, and speaker ID for that matter to.

The standard is to use all lowercase, except for proper nouns.

2. How do we describe captions?

One of the keys to knowing how to correctly subtitle/caption a sound effect is knowing what tense to use.

You can use two tenses. The present participle and the present tense.

We use the present participle form of the verb when we describe a sustained sound (long sound).

Eg:
[laughing]
[dog barking]

We use the third person verb form when describing an abrupt sound (short sound).

Eg:
[laughs]
[dog barks]

*Never use the past tense when describing sounds.

Wherever possible, use specific rather than vague, general terms to describe sounds.

Eg:
Vague: Bird singing
Specific: Sparrow singing

3.  So when do we include sound effects?

We caption background sound effects only when they are relevant and essential to the plot. Be careful not to caption ‘actions’! Only capture sound effects when they cannot be visually identified or are plot pertinent.
And speaker ID’s?

4. What about speaker ID’s?

You never want to have unnecessary text in your caption/subtitle, so it is important to remember to only use speaker IDs when they cannot be visually identified.
For proper nouns, the standard is to begin with an upper case letter,

Eg:
[Mary]
[John]

We use all lower case when we do not know the name of the person,

Eg:
[dentist]
[neighbor]

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