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Closed Captioning vs. Transcription: Understanding the Differences

Christopher Nguyen
Christopher Nguyen
Posted in Zoom Jan 31 · 3 Feb, 2024
Closed Captioning vs. Transcription: Understanding the Differences

In an era where digital content reigns supreme, ensuring accessibility for all audiences is more crucial than ever. Two key services that enhance accessibility are closed captioning and transcription. Although they serve similar purposes in making content more accessible, particularly for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, they are distinct in their application and use. This blog post delves into the differences between closed captioning and transcription, and how they can be used complementarily to ensure your content is accessible to a wider audience.

Closed Captioning: A Visual Aid for Audio Content

Closed captioning is a process that involves displaying text on a video screen to provide a visual representation of the audio track. This includes not just the dialogue, but also non-speech elements such as sound effects, music, and other audio cues that are essential for understanding the context and narrative of the video content. Closed captions can be toggled on or off by the viewer, offering flexibility for those who need it.

The primary purpose of closed captioning is to aid individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow along with video content. However, its benefits extend beyond this community. Closed captions are also useful for viewers who are watching videos in noisy environments, those learning a new language, and even students and professionals who prefer text aids for better comprehension and retention of information.

Transcription: Converting Audio to Text

Transcription, on the other hand, is the process of converting speech (or audio) into a written or text document. Unlike closed captioning, transcription does not typically include non-speech elements unless specifically requested. Transcriptions can be verbatim, capturing every word and filler sound uttered, or cleaned up to remove ums, ahs, and other non-essential elements for clearer reading.

Transcriptions are invaluable for creating accessible content for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, as they can read the text at their own pace. Additionally, transcriptions serve a broader purpose by enhancing the reach of audio content, such as podcasts and interviews, making them searchable online and easier to reference. They are also essential in legal, medical, and professional settings where accurate records of verbal communications are required.

Differences and Complementary Uses

While both closed captioning and transcription aim to make content more accessible, they cater to different needs and formats. Closed captioning is specific to video content, providing a real-time text overlay that matches the audio track. Transcription, however, converts audio content into a text document, which can be used independently of the original audio or video.

The complementary use of closed captioning and transcription can significantly enhance accessibility. For instance, offering a transcript along with a closed-captioned video allows individuals to choose their preferred format. Transcripts can also be useful for educational materials, allowing students to highlight and take notes. Moreover, providing both options improves SEO for digital content, as search engines can index the text, making it easier for users to find the information online.

Best Practices for Implementing Closed Captioning and Transcription

To maximize the accessibility and reach of your content, consider the following best practices:

  1. Accuracy is key: Ensure that both closed captions and transcripts are accurate and reflect the audio content faithfully.
  2. Include non-speech elements: For closed captions, include descriptions of important non-speech audio cues.
  3. Consider timing: For video content, ensure that closed captions are properly timed with the audio to avoid confusion.
  4. Provide options: Offer both closed captions and transcripts when possible to cater to different accessibility needs.
  5. Use professional services: Consider using professional transcription and captioning services to ensure high quality and accuracy.


Understanding the differences and complementary uses of closed captioning and transcription is essential for content creators and businesses aiming to be more inclusive. By implementing both, you not only comply with accessibility laws and standards but also open your content to a wider audience, including those with hearing impairments, non-native language speakers, and individuals in learning environments. As digital content continues to dominate, the importance of making your content accessible cannot be overstated. Embracing closed captioning and transcription is a step toward a more inclusive and accessible digital world.