Become a Caption Writer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a caption writer. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in caption writing.

Should I Become a Caption Writer?

Caption writers are responsible for writing transcriptions of television shows and movies, which are displayed on-screen for the benefit of hearing-impaired viewers. Federal laws mandate that virtually all new English-language programming be captioned. Some of these professionals are self-employed and may have significant control over their schedules, but often find it necessary to pursue future assignments and jobs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree; some employers require a bachelor's degree
Degree Field Writing, English, court reporter
Certification Optional certification available through the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA)
Experience Varies by employer; internships available
Key Skills Active listening, writing, reading comprehension, time management, ability to focus for long periods of time, finger dexterity, use of stenomasks, stenotype machines, audio recording equipment, dictation machines, database user interface and query software, enterprise resource planning software, voice recognition software, word processing and spreadsheet software
Salary (2014) $47,684 per year (Median for all writers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), National Court Reporters Association, Multiple job postings (August 2015), O*NET OnLine, PayScale.

Step 1: Complete an Educational Program

Strong writing and technical skills are needed to become a caption writer. Caption writers must develop exceptional typing speed and accuracy. Both of these skills can be learned and improved through training. Since the skills for caption writing are similar to those needed for court reporting, court-reporting schools often offer courses for those who want to become caption writers. The NCRA maintains a list on its website of certified court reporting schools with broadcast captioning programs. The National Captioning Institute (NCI) also provides information and resources about the captioning profession.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Some broadcast stations, businesses and newspapers hire interns for both closed captioning and court reporting, which can provide valuable professional experience. Some college programs for closed captioning provide an internship as a requirement for graduation.

Step 2: Earn Certification

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, certification can enhance the job prospects of court reporters and professionals in related fields, as well as help them progress in their careers. The NCRA offers the Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC) designation to its members. Requirements for this certification include taking a written exam and passing a 5-minute real time captioning test at 180 words per minute. To keep their certifications, CBC holders must take three continuing education credits every three years. Another option is to earn one of three designations through the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). Similar to NCRA certification, applicants must pass a written and practical exam to become certified.

Step 3: Gain Initial Experience

People who want to become caption writers may find it useful to hone their skills in a related profession before jumping into the captioning field. A court reporter or relay operator job can help aspiring caption writers learn how to type what they hear quickly and accurately. Captioning assistant positions are also helpful in gaining experience with caption writing.

Step 4: Find Writing Work

Local and national broadcasters and other media companies typically employ caption writers. They may caption pre-recorded programs or transcribe live speech. Additionally, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laws require Spanish-language programming to be captioned as well, which may introduce more job opportunities for bilingual caption writers.

Step 5: Consider Specializing in CART

One area of captioning that is related to broadcast captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). CART providers work with people learning a second language, as well as the hard of hearing, by providing caption services for school classes, conventions and other situations where clients may need communication assistance. Schools with CART programs are listed on the NCRA website.

Success Tip:

  • Earn Certified CART Provider certification. NCRA members have the option to earn CART certification, which demonstrates to employers that an individual possesses the necessary skills to provide CART services. To become certified, individuals need to pass both a written and skills test.

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