Offline Hurdles: The Power of Briefs

Autocorrecting Your Way to a Smarter Workflow

Yelling frustrations into smartphones has become an almost daily part of life. As we hurriedly zip out texts, this function has the tendency to take the reins and skew meaning in annoying, sometimes hilarious, ways. By taking control of this system, offline captioners greatly increase productivity, convenience, and peace of mind in their contribution to video post-production. After all, with the sheer volumes of content being generated today, we need every shortcut out there.

At VITAC, this personalized list of shortcuts are called briefs; some call them macros, text expanders, or “autocorrect”, and they can either drive you mad or save your sanity. Early on in the career of an offline captioner, it becomes apparent that people today tend to use a very, very common vocabulary. Narrow the field of vision to cookingFlavortown, Guy Fieri, Captions, Captioning, Food Coma Town shows, and the variety of words used gets even slimmer. No matter how fast you think you can type, there comes a moment where you simply cannot type the words, “delicious,” “restaurant,” or “sauté” a single time more, so you classify a set of shortcuts to expand “rt” to “restaurant,” or “dc” to “delicious,” and that’s how you keep ahead of any especially fast-talking chefs. “Ft” could very well help you never have to type the word “Flavortown” again.

Briefs, captioning, shortcuts, macros, autocorrect


Within our proprietary offline captioning software, VNL, is the briefs interface, where captioners distinguish and categorize shortcuts for use when most needed. There are the personal briefs, for every show, temporary, series-specific, computer-specific, and “other” for our captioning staff. Sometimes a little gem-like inside jokes left are left behind by someone who’s worked on the show before. One captioner writes, “I’m not sure what was happening in my life when I made this one.”


After long enough in the captioning industry, captioners have a brief for almost anything you can think of, but here are some general rules of thumb followed:

  • Adverbs: People actually use a lot of adverbs. Seriously, definitely do that immediately—really.
  • Fillers: Unscripted actors, those on home-renovation, cooking, reality programming, and the like, say “like” and “you know” all the time, along with various other filler words. It won’t take long to notice which filler words people absentmindedly throw into everyday conversation. Yes, it will get annoying.
  • Sound Effects: There are only so many sound effects. Everyone [ Laughs ], [ Cries ], and [ Scoffs ]. There will always be another [ Phone ringing ].
  • Misspellings: Do your fingers insist on typing “jsut” instead of “just”, or “recieve” instead of “receive”? Do you tend to capitalize the first to letters of every sentence or end words with “ign” instead of “ing”? Let the system take care of all the words you refuse to learn and the wrong ways your fingers hit the keyboard at 90wpm.


At VITAC, we caption videos on every subject imaginable, and each genre has its own specific parlance which you can key into and begin to predict what will be said next, and staying one step ahead of your project is the trick to efficient captioning. Then, as with most jobs, captioners may, without noticing, take work home with them. They might use bracketed sound effects in text messages, or begin to notice that they text the same words many times each day. That’s when it’s time to open the autocorrect settings and begin developing a personal dictionary of briefs. There is truly no limit, as evidenced by this enterprising and devoted son when he made a brief on his mother’s phone to exchange the phrase “dirty laundry” to a transcript of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Autocorrect prank, shortcuts, Ulysses, briefs
So, which briefs couldn’t you live without? How are you making autocorrect work for you instead of against? Let us know! Be sure to check out the other Offline Hurdles, and look to our offline captioning page to find out more about the work being done at VITAC.


Offline Hurdles: The Captioned Puzzle

Clarity, Accuracy, and Timing in Accessible Programming

There are a few different styles in which television is captioned, each with its own merits and flaws, but the four pillars of closed captioning are as follows:

  • Accuracy: Captioning shall match the spoken words (or song lyrics when provided on the audio track) in their original language (English or Spanish), without paraphrasing, except to resolve any time constraints.
  • Synchronicity: Captioning shall coincide with the corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible.
  • Completeness: Captioning shall run from the beginning to the end of the program, to the fullest extent possible.
  • Placement: Captioning shall not block on-screen graphics.


Combined, these tenets, directed by the FCC, attempt to create a viewing experience like that which the audio track delivers. In the world of pre-recorded captioning, this can become something of a balancing act—one which involves a couple hand-offs and some personal discretion. Your pre-recorded programming comes through three levels at VITAC; it is transcribed, timed/placed, and reviewed. Now, it’s the job of each captioner to make their successor’s as easy and streamlined as possible. If all goes according to plan, the timer/placer won’t change much, and the review will watch a clean file then deliver.


Transcription and the Questions That Arise

It seems clear enough, right? Just write down what people say. Before beginning anything, though, a treatment is consulted to verify any  client-specific requirements. Can dialogue be cleaned up to cut down stuttering or filler words like “um,” “like,” and “you know”? Are you allowed to write “gonna” or should it always be “going to”? If an actor is dropping the ends of their words, do they write “droppin’”? How are accents handled? How is profanity handled? A lot of these questions come up due to the unpredictability of unscripted television, as we can mostly assume scripted stutters and other acting is intentional, but every show has its own particular guidelines. Now it’s off to the races of accurate, light-speed typing, ensuring that every name and obscure pop-culture reference is spelled correctly before handing the project to a timer/placer.


Time, Place, and Make Everything Fit

Get all the words on the screen as they’re spoken with enough time to load and make sure everything’s broken up in to easily digestible, almost poetic, bites. If you think about the captions that scroll up the screen like a kind of continuous loading bar, know that the one’s that pop on need to fully load before springing onto screen. This load time is affected by pretty much anything you change—caption length and position being the top two variables.

As more people begin talking simultaneously and plot-pertinent sound effects take place, things can get a bit dicey. Do you polish something? Bring the captions in early? Late? How important is that ringing cellphone? It’s all about doing what you can to communicate an auditory experience visually in an efficient manner. In addition to grammar genies, captioners need to be pretty adept at solving these puzzles.



Accuracy and synchronicity are on opposing sides of a see-saw, vying for control, and your captioner is the mediator, trying to keep things balanced. Hidden within every second of broadcast television are many decisions and perspectives at work. And after any time spent captioning, especially loud reality programming, the viewing experience is forever changed. You’ll always be asking yourself, “How in the world did they handle that?” Look closely and pay attention to the captioning medium. You’ll find there’s a lot behind how this information is translated and delivered.