Everything You Need to Transcribe Videos & Create Closed Captioning In-House

July 6, 2015 BY LILY BOND
Updated: January 4, 2018

While using a 3rd party closed captioning and video transcription service certainly makes the process easier for video producers, it’s not for everyone. The main barrier to hiring a captioning company? Cost.

Is there a cheap or free closed captioning and video transcription solution? Well, if you want accurate captions, the only “free” way to get them is to do it yourself.

We’ve compiled all the tools and resources you need to transcribe your videos and create closed captions in-house. Be warned: it’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. Best of luck!

Creating Closed Captions for YouTube Videos

If your videos are hosted on YouTube, there are a number of ways to create your own captions directly in the YouTube editing interface. You can leveraging YouTube’s offerings in three ways:

Download and Edit YouTube’s Automatic Captions

YouTube’s automatic video transcript and captions are a great starting point, but they are far too inaccurate to be used on their own. Automatic captions produce copious errors that hurt video accessibility — and can be embarrassing. YouTube and Google will not index the automatic captions, and so you miss out on the video SEO benefits of quality captions.

Here is what you need to do to YouTube’s automatic captions to get their full value:

  1. From the Video Manager, select your video and click Edit > Subtitles and CC. Click English (Automatic) to pull up the automatic captions, then click Actions > Download .srt. Note that Google and YouTube will not index your captions if you edit the automatic captions in the YouTube interface.
  2. Open your .srt file with a plain text editor. Edit the captions while playing back your video to make sure the captions are accurate. When you are happy with your caption file, make sure you save it with the .srt extension.
  3. Upload your edited captions to YouTube by going back into the Subtitles and CC editor. Click Add subtitles or CC and select English, then click Upload a File and choose Subtitles file. Upload your .srt file; you can edit timing, if necessary, after the file has uploaded.

Note: you do not want to download automatic captions and upload them back to YouTube without cleaning them up first. If you upload poor quality captions, Google will flag your content as spam and penalize you in search results.

Create a Transcript in YouTube

If you don’t want to use YouTube’s automatic captions as a starting point, you can create a transcript from scratch and sync it with the video directly in YouTube:

  1. From the Video Manager, select your video and click Edit > Subtitles and CC. Select Add subtitles or CC and choose your language.
  2. Select Transcribe and Set Timings and, in the space provided, type the transcript of your video. YouTube will automatically pause the video as you type so you can transcribe the video quickly and more accurately.
  3. When you are satisfied with your transcript, select Set Timings. This will sync your transcript with the video. You can always edit timing once the captions are published.

Create a Transcript File to Upload

If you would rather transcribe your video outside of YouTube, or if you already have a script for your video, you can upload the file to YouTube to create captions.

  1. First, create a transcript of your video if you do not already have a script. Keep in mind YouTube’s recommendations for formatting.
  2. Navigate to the Video Manager in YouTube and click Edit > Subtitles and CC next to your video. Select Add Subtitles or CC and choose your language.
  3. Choose Upload a File, select Transcript, and choose your .txt file for upload.
  4. When your transcript has uploaded, select Set Timings to sync your transcript with the video and create closed captions. You can always edit timing once the captions are published.

In-House Captioning Workflow for Other Video Platforms

If your videos are not on YouTube, there are many tools that can make the in-house transcription and captioning process easier. Keep in mind that video platforms require different caption file formats – we’ll show you how to create the right format in Step 3.

1. Start by Creating a Video Transcript

You can manually create a transcript file by typing the spoken content of your media file into a plain text editor. Many people find it easier to first put the media through automatic speech recognition software (like Dragon, Dictation, or Camtasia). While this transcript will have a lot of errors, it is often quicker to clean up an inaccurate transcript than it is to start from scratch.

Another option is to use transcription software that is designed to make the process faster and easier. Express Scribe works on both Mac and PC: it has configurable keyboard shortcuts and allows you to slow down playback so you can keep up with the audio. While Express Scribe tops the list, there are other transcription software options to consider, as well.

Before completing your transcript, follow best practices for formatting your text.

2. Synchronize Your Transcript with Your Video

Once you have completed your transcript, you need to synchronize it with the video to a create closed caption file. There are many programs that can help you align your captions — with varying degrees of accuracy. You should always double check the final file before posting it to your video.

Programs that can help you sync your transcript and video include Camtasia, MovieCaptioner, Accessify, CaptionTube, Subtitle Horse, YouTube Subtitler, and Magpie.

Once you are satisfied with your captions, save the file to your computer. You can always edit the timing in a plain text editor.

3. Upload Your Captions to Your Video

You will need a particular caption file format depending on what video platform you use. You can check our list of caption and subtitle formats to figure out what format your video player requires.

If the program you used to time-synchronize your transcript does not provide the caption file format you need, you can use 3Play Media’s free caption format converter to convert your caption file into the necessary format.

Once you have your closed caption file correctly formatted, upload it to your video and view it with captions!

Learn how to add captions to many different video platforms in our How-To Guides.

Captioning Resources

Some generous universities and organizations that do video transcription and captioning in-house have made their DIY captioning guides available to the public, including:

As you dive in, it is important to keep in mind best practices for captioning, transcription, and subtitling. Formatting, accuracy, speaker identification, and capturing non-speech sounds are all important in order to meet caption quality standards.

If you find that transcribing and captioning video yourself becomes too cumbersome, you can always use a captioning service like 3Play Media, which offers roundtrip integration with YouTube.

Download free whitepaper: Everything you need to know to transcribe videos & create closed captions in-house

This post was originally published on August 25, 2014 as “DIY Resources for Closed Captioning and Transcription” and has been updated.

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.