Become a Caption Writer: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 28, 2020

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

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Should I Become a Caption Writer?

Caption writers, also known as broadcast captioners, write 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 have significant control over their schedules. However, they also have to actively pursue future assignments.

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; exceptional typing speed and accuracy, finger dexterity; use of stenomasks, stenotype machines, audio recording equipment, dictation machines; database user interface and query, enterprise resource planning, voice recognition, word processing and spreadsheet software
Mean Salary (2019)* $64,990 per year (for all court reporters, which includes caption writers)

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

Caption writers need active listening, writing, reading comprehension and time management skills, along with the ability to focus for long periods of time and exceptional typing speed and accuracy. They must have finger dexterity and be able to use stenomasks, stenotype machines, audio recording equipment and dictation machines, as well as database user interface and query, enterprise resource planning, voice recognition, word processing and spreadsheet software. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) counts caption writers among court reporters. The mean annual salary for this group was $64,990 as of May 2019.

Let's learn what it takes to work as a caption writer.

Step 1: Complete an Educational Program

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 National Court Reporters Association (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. Additionally, some technical and community colleges offer certificates or associate's degree programs in broadcast captioning.

Here's a tip for success:

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

Step 2: Earn Voluntary Certification

Certification can enhance the job prospects of captioning professionals, 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 five-minute real time captioning test at 180 words per minute. To keep their certification, CBCs must complete 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 written and practical exams to become certified.

Step 3: Gain Initial Experience

People who want to become caption writers might 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 to 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 Work as a Caption Writer

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

Step 5: Consider Specializing in CART

Communication Access Realtime Translation (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 might need communication assistance. Schools with CART programs are listed on the NCRA website.

You can increase your chances of success by earning 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 written and skills tests.

Remember, to become a caption writer, you need to gain formal education through a broadcast captioning or court reporting program. Experience and voluntary certification could boost your career prospects.

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