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How to Caption YouTube Videos

After spending circa three days captioning my most recent YouTube video, I learned a number of things that may be useful to you should you also want to have a better option than the auto-generated captions that can't tell if you mean "which" or "witch."

I will include screenshots at every step so you know where to look for the important buttons, indicated by blue circles or boxes!

First, how does one even access the captions in the current Studio layout? There are two ways to get there.

Let's start at home base: The Studio Dashboard

To access the subtitle editor, you can start by clicking either the Content button or the Subtitles button. If you go through Content, here's the rest of the path.

From your Content List, select the video to which you'd like to add captions. I'll be using my "A Brief History of Witchcraft" and my "We Flew to Boston" videos for this demo.

Click the pencil icon, as indicated above, to edit the video's Details.

From the Video Details page, click Subtitles on the lefthand list.

This will pull up the Video Subtitle list. What you see here is the list for a video to which I've already added correct captions. Usually, you'll start with only one item on the list, which is the auto-generated caption file from YouTube in your video's language. We'll use this file as a starting point, rather than transcribing completely from scratch. But first, here's the other path to get to the editor.

If you click on Subtitles, instead of Content, from the Dashboard screen, you'll get this list.

From here, you'll click the drop-down arrow in the Languages column.

This will expand the list of caption files attached to the video. Here you can see one with only auto-generated captions (the first video) and one with a finished caption edit (the second video). Once you've added your own captions, YouTube's original file is renamed with the word "automatic" in parentheses to help you distinguish.

From whichever subtitle list you reached, you'll click the Duplicate and Edit button to the right of the auto caption file.

You'll receive this warning. Since you should have no drafts, you can safely click Continue. If you do have any drafts, you may want to complete and publish those before proceeding.

You finally reached the Editor! Let's go over all the controls.

First, this text field is, clearly, where you can edit the text for the captions. When you first open the auto caption file, the text will likely be compiled into chunky paragraphs with no punctuation, capitalization, or other formatting.

Your basic video controls are here. When the video is actively selected, pressing the left and right arrows will jump 10 seconds backward or forward, respectively. Beneath the video, there is a hyperlink for an article on the editor's keyboard shortcuts. I did not use these, but I discovered a few accidentally. For instance, pressing Shift+Space will play or pause the video. Shift+arrow will scrub through the timeline. Basically, I avoided pressing Shift at all costs, apart from its basic uses in text editing.

This box will display the current time location of the playhead in minutes:seconds:frames. It may be helpful to know the framerate of your video before editing to captions as it will help you finetune the timings later. For example, my cameras shoot at 30 fps (frames per second). A quick setting search of your camera or checking via your editing software can give you this information. You can also watch your video for a few seconds and see at what point the frame number causes the second number to increase.

Should you make any mistakes, such as deleting the wrong title, there is an Undo button! Ctrl+Z/Cmd+Z also works in the editor.

This field is the caption track of the timeline. As you make changes to the text and timings, you'll see them update in real-time here. The audio track is below it, if the soundwaves are helpful to you for setting timings.

You can zoom in and out on the timeline tracks here. I found that the zoom intervals were quite wonky. On this video, it is currently set to five-second intervals. Zooming in from here will show five-frame intervals. There is no in-between.

You can click Edit Timings to switch to manually setting the caption times. I noticed that after a while, the editor was struggling to keep up with my changes and would freeze up at times. I noticed it was usually about 25% of the way through my video's run time. When I reached that point, clicking this button would bring up an extra dialogue that I was unable to recreate at the time of writing this (should I encounter it again, I shall edit this post to display it). The dialogue read along the lines of "Automatically updating the timings is taking longer than usual. You can safely close this window and check back later. If you want to check the timings before publishing, click Save Draft. If you want the titles to go live as soon as they're finished, click Save and Close."

Basically, if this should occur, I recommend clicking Save Draft. This will save all your progress and close the editor to give it time to catch up to your changes. Check back every few minutes until clicking Edit Timings brings you to the next screen.

Edit Timings brings you here. You can edit text in these boxes on the left. Each large box is a caption on the timeline.

You can edit timings by manually typing in the minute:second:frame where each caption should appear and vanish. This is where the Current Frame box to the left of the Undo button comes in handy. You can also adit timings by dragging the captions along the track at the bottom, or by dragging their ends back and forth.

You can Add a Caption by clicking either of these buttons or by pressing the Enter key from the preceding caption box. Clicking Shift+Enter allows you to create a second line of text without jumping to a new caption box.

You can Delete a caption by pressing the trash can icon to the right of the text box.

You can also set the editor to Pause the video while typing by clicking this check box. I left this setting off, but it's a personal preference.

Almost there! These Three Dots access a function menu for the vanilla text box.

This was a function I found super useful! Because the editor was struggling to keep up with me, I went ahead and downloaded the raw text file onto my computer to edit myself while I waited for the timings to be auto-synced. Download subtitles creates a .txt file on your computer that you can edit with Notepad on a Windows computer or TextEdit on a Mac. You can also Clear text to start from scratch in the text field (Ctrl+A/Cmd+A then Delete also works), or you can Upload file to insert your own text file from your computer. I chose to copy and paste text from my TextEdit file to the text field in chunks to avoid overwhelming the auto-sync program (though it still froze up on me a couple times).

The Save Draft button will save your current progress so if anything forces the program to close, you won't lose your work. I clicked this button quite compulsively. 😅

Lastly, the Publish button will finalize the file and publish it so viewers can access and use your new titles the next time they watch the video. The X to the right of this will close the editor, and it will prompt you to Save Draft or Discard Changes before it closes.

Oh, and don't worry too much about that little speech bubble icon. That's the Send Feedback button, if you need to report a bug or anything. I used this feature a few times in the last couple days- I may have yelled at YouTube for their program continuing to freeze on me... 😅

One thing I noticed, which is the reason for my discouraging you from clicking it, is a checkbox on the feedback dialogue for Include Screenshot. This box is checked by default. So, the YouTube page would automatically attempt to screenshot itself, which would freeze up and further break the editor. After submitting feedback and returning to the editor, I was unable to even play my video because its screen was entirely missing. I even had to restart my caption file twice due to these issues. So I advise that, unless you are absolutely compelled, you don't go clicking on that feedback button.

Now that you've got the lay of the land, you can edit your captions however most works for you. I found that downloading the raw text, editing it in a separate file, and then pasting the new text in chunks into the editor worked best for me. Once I had all the text fixed, then I went through time adjustments for each caption. This worked best by watching the video and pausing at the exact moment the audio for a caption's text began or ended, noting the current frame for that spot, then entering those two frames into the time boxes. (I hope that description made sense.)

I also found that the editor wants captions to be no more than two lines, and it wants an approximate maximum of 40-45 characters on each line. I included spaces in my count there.

Following that format, your captions will end up looking something like this. It isn't a perfect system, as the editor still did wonky things with my text even after formatting like this. If you're anything like me, you'll sink most of your time into fine-tuning and evening out the titles so you don't end up with single-word captions in the middle of sentences and other such annoyances.

In terms of formatting within captions to denote certain things, there are different thought camps for what makes sense. I did what made the most sense to me. When two individuals spoke at the same time, I'd note it with parentheses as such:

(Chris: 1,000)

Ali: That's thousand

The individual outside of parentheses was already speaking prior to this point, and the person in parentheses spoke alongside them in this instant.

For speech over a speaker, from an automated voice, a PA system, etc. I used curly brackets- {}

For instance, when we were on the Boston subway, the PA system announced this:

{Entering Maverick}

{The doors will open on the left side of the


For vocal/verbal affects, I used parentheses, but I think I will switch to square brackets- [] -in the future. Here's an example of what I mean:

Ali: (through teeth) One was Scottish, and the

other was from the Holy Roman Empire,

(spoken normally) specifically the area that

is now Germany

For any other sound effects, such as laughter, sighs, or gasps, I'd use asterisks.

Ali: So... *taps foot*

This gets across that I not only moved my foot as seen, but I also made an audible tap sound on the floor as I did so.

I also used asterisks to sensor swears because we curse like drunken sailors in my home.

Chris: Yes, they abso-******-lutely do!

Why do you think it doesn't give a ****?

There you have it! I hope this helps, and if anything is unclear, let me know, and I'll try to better demonstrate or reword it. If a video would help you better understand, let me know that, too, and I'll get to making one!

Thanks for reading, good luck captioning, and keep aiming, loves! 💜🖤

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