Descriptive SFX

One of the most important tasks of a closed captioner is to rememPeople watching.jpgber the people who benefit from our work.

Films with captions guarantee equal opportunities to people with disabilities and they give everyone equal access to enjoy all the great content that is produced around the world.

When we read closed captions, we see different types of descriptive SFX, from the jingling of keys to the indistinct chattering of negotiators. These captions are all plot pertinent and important in helping the viewer experience the same effects as if they were hearing the audio.


Includes sounds made by objects or animals

[siren wailing]


[dogs barking]


Includes sounds made by characters that can’t or shouldn’t be transcribed as distinct speech

[Maria laughs]

[crowd chanting]

[Jim groaning]


Describes how the speaker pronounces the words.

The caption is followed by the dialogue

[cries in pain] Go get help!

[hysterical laughter] Do you really believe that?

[British accent] Cup of tea, my dear.


Includes song titles, music notes, music lyrics, and descriptions  of music.

[energizing techno music fades]

[suspenseful music]

[“Are you lonesome tonight” playing]

How captions are presented, both optically and structurally, could have a serious impact on the viewers understanding and enjoyment of the content. So keep this in mind too!

I hope you have enjoyed reading my short article.

About the author:

Kelly O’Donovan is the creator of GOSUB – An education in the art of subtitling.

GOSUB was born from a passion and enthusiasm for subtitling and teaching.

Having started as a linguistic teacher and then moving on to become the Operations Manager of a leading subtitling agency, Kelly used her know-how, affection, and savvy to create efficient and exciting audiovisual courses.

From her years of experience working with producers, dubbing agencies, video-on-demand platforms, entertainment distributors, encoding houses and more, she has learnt a mountain of information about subtitling and closed captioning. She decided to couple this involvement with her other skill set, which is teaching.




One thought on “Descriptive SFX

  1. Excellent job. Congratulations on tour precise work. I’m a translator and captioning has always fascinated me, but I had no clue on how you do it.


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