How to Tackle a Transcript

From TED Translators Wiki
Revision as of 12:08, 8 January 2013 by Sophisticatedcat (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search


TED Transcripts

In addition to a TED-style description of the talk, most TED and TED-Ed talks come with a transcript. A TED/TEDx transcript is a form of same-language or "intralingual" subtitles. In addition to containing the words spoken by the speaker, the transcript must additionally be divided into subtitle lines and then spotted (cued, timed) to match the flow of the recorded talk. By convention, TED transcripts are different than closed captions (subtitles used for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or same-language subtitles (subtitles for all types of viewers, e.g. used in noisy places like airports) in several ways:

  • Closed captions are based on the idea of compressing the spoken utterances and editing out redundant parts of the dialog (such as repetitions, embellishments, or references to content that can be identified visually on the screen), in order to make the subtitles easier to follow. Such editing is done to a much lesser degree in TED transcripts.
  • One subtitle (text on the screen meant to represent spoken utterances) is normally composed of up to two lines of up to 35-40 characters each. There are no line breaks in TED transcripts, so one subtitle always consists of a single line only. There is also no official line length limitation in TED transcripts, although 75-80 characters seems to be a rule of thumb for maximum readable line length (although language-specific rules may differ). See sections on line duration and line length.
  • A time-coded TED transcript will be extracted to form an interactive transcription of the talk, where each line serves as a link to the part of the video where the words were spoken. This does not usually happen with other types of subtitles.
  • Like closed captions, TED Transcripts contain sound representations for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers (e.g. (Laughter), (Applause)). Unlike in most subtitling conventions, these representations are written using capitalized words and phrases in parentheses, not capital letters.


Some of the following resources are necessary to create a transcript, while others may simply make the process easier.

Speaker's material

Start by finding out the speaker's contact information from the TEDx organizer, or get the contact information for the person who was responsible for contacting the particular speaker before the conference. Be sure to ask the speaker for a copy of their presentation and any other material that they are willing to give you or link you to that may make preparing the transcript easier (you may be able to get the slides directly from the organizer, with the speaker's permission). This is especially useful when transcribing acronyms and proper names; a mispronounced proper name can be very difficult to find, but it will often be included on a slide. If the slides contain little or no text, ask the speaker if they have notes (in digital form) that they could provide you with. If you decide to email the speaker to ask for disambiguation, try to do so only after having created the whole transcript (marking out the uncertain parts with [Unclear]), and then put all your questions into a single email. Very often, something that seemed unintelligible while listening to the talk becomes obvious while working on the transcript, and this is why it is preferable to postpone asking the speaker for clarification.

Video file

Even if one intends to subtitle the video online, it is often useful to also have the talk in a video file on one's computer. Software players allow greater volume amplification than online applications, which can help in making out unclear words. If you have no access to the speaker's slides, a high-quality video can be zoomed in to reveal a proper name displayed on the screen. Most importantly, having a video file of the talk also makes it possible to use the offline subtitling software, and to work on the transcript with no Internet connection. A video file can usually be obtained from the organizer of the conference, or from the person responsible for filming the talks. A file-hosting site or ftp server can be used to exchange the files.


A reviewer is as necessary in preparing a transcript as they are in translation. The reviewer should have the necessary skills and experience to make the transcript more accurate (correct mistakes), fine-tune the time coding and line breaks, correct the spelling and punctuation, and understand and improve the editing choices made in the transcript. Since creating and reviewing a TEDx transcript requires a specific set of skills, it is best to begin searching for a reviewer even before starting on the transcript.

Subtitling tools

There are many free online and offline tools that can be used in transcribing talks. To use an online solution, one must first upload the video file onto a website (e.g. YouTube). Professional offline applications may be costly, but there are multiple freeware alternatives with approximately the same functionality. Subtitling tools differ in how accurately they allow the user to edit the cue times and how much assistance the subtitler receives in the spotting process. Every tool provides a different kind of interface (hotkeys, graphical cueing, keyboard and mouse combinations) and solutions meant to make subtitling an easier process. For example, Subtitle Edit generates a graphical waveform representation that makes it possible to slide a subtitle over a spoken utterance without having to listen to it to ensure the subtitle is displayed in time with the speech. Amara offers the auto-pause feature, where the video is paused while the user is typing, and a dynamic spotting method, where the user watches the video and presses a key to signify where a subtitle should be displayed. YouTube's "Automatic Timing" feature can also help you add time codes automatically (using speech recognition) based on a text file containing your transcription, which you can then edit using an offline tool to fine-tune the line duration and line breaks (see a tutorial here). Most offline tools can also be used to convert between many subtitle formats, in most cases by simply opening a subtitle file and saving it in the format of one's choice.

You can find links to various offline and online subtitling tools in the External Links section.


There are dozens of subtitle file standards in the world. In order to facilitate spreading your work in many websites that host subtitled videos, and to make it possible to switch back and forth between the online solution and an offline application, start by making sure the website you will eventually be using (possibly Amara and YouTube) supports the subtitle format that your offline application will generate. The time-based (as opposed to frame-based) .srt format is supported by most video hosting websites and offline players (including DVD players).

For languages that use characters not present in the subsection of the Latin alphabet used for English, the character encoding used in the subtitle file is also important. Most websites (including YouTube, Amara and Dotsub) support files encoded as UTF-8. If the .srt file is not encoded as UTF-8, some of the non-English characters may appear garbled. This can be solved by converting the subtitle file to the appropriate encoding standard. There are many freeware tools available for this. One of them is the online UTF converter. The content of the .srt file needs to be copied and pasted into the form, and then copied and pasted back after conversion (.srt files are like text files with a different extension, and can be opened in any text editor for copying/pasting).

Transcribing TEDx talks - Title and description standard

Each TEDx talk comes with a title and description added by the TEDx organizer. However, these sometimes contain too little or too much information.

The standard for title is: [Talk Title] [Speaker's Name] at TEDx[EventName]. For example: On being a young entrepreneur: Christophe Van Doninck at TEDxFlanders

Talks description field should contain 1-2 sentences describing the talk and speaker's bio or external links ahould be removed. The text explaining what TEDx is should also be removed.

Cueing/timing and line breaks

Because a TED transcript is meant to work as subtitles, the content of the transcript must be broken up into subtitle lines, and these lines must be synchronized with the video. This process is referred to as cueing, spotting or timing. The main objective in timing the subtitles is to present the viewer with a line of text displayed on the screen for a period of time that will be sufficient for them to read and understand the text. On the other hand, the subtitles are only one part of the visual content that the viewer must take in at any given time, and for this reason, the subtitle line cannot be too long, because the viewer must be given enough time to look at and comprehend the video. Additionally, hearing viewers watching the talk with subtitles (e.g. translated into their language) must also have enough time to listen to the speaker's voice (the intonation and emotion in the voice / prosodic features) and other ambient sounds.

Line duration

While subtitling in English, one must assume the average reading speed of 150-180 words per minute[1], or up to 12 characters per second[2]. A single-line subtitle of a TED transcript (equivalent to a two-line subtitle in usual subtitling) of any length should not stay on the screen for more than about 6 seconds. A subtitle cannot stay on the screen for less than approximately 1.12 seconds[3], even if it only contains a single word, because subtitles with a shorter duration will just be a flash that most viewers will miss. Conversely, a short subtitle should not stay on the screen for too long, because that would prompt the viewer to re-read it[4]. Most free off-line subtitling applications calculate (or help calculate) the optimal duration of a subtitle based on the number of characters or words in the line. The duration should reflect the average reading speed, but also allow for a little more reading time for relatively "difficult" items that require more attention from the viewer, e.g. proper names or specialized terminology. Importantly, the reading speeds described above reflect values for English subtitles, and may vary for other languages.

Line length

Unlike in TED transcripts, in most cases one subtitle consists of up to two lines at 35-40 characters per each.[5] Since there are no line breaks within a subtitle in TED transcripts, it can be assumed that this means a single line in a TED transcript may consist of up to 70-80 characters (the closer to the 70-character mark, the easier to read the subtitle becomes). A longer line is difficult to read, and some offline players may automatically break it up to form three or more single lines, covering up to half of the screen. This character limit means that employing creative line-breaking to break the line before it passes the 70-80 character limit is a necessary part of transcribing a talk. Maximum line length in non-English subtitles may differ, especially for languages which do not employ the Latin alphabet. Most offline subtitling applications support line-length calculation and indicate lines that are too long, or too short for their on-screen duration.


A subtitle line should not appear immediately when the speaker begins the utterance, in order to cue the viewer that something is being said and that they need to look for subtitles at the bottom of the screen[6]. The subtitle should not lag after the utterance for more than 2 seconds[7][8], but usually such long lagging is not necessary. A break should be inserted between consecutive subtitles whenever possible[9], in order to cue the viewer that a new line is going to appear and make it easier to follow the flow of the text.

What are line breaks?

One subtitle can be composed of one or two lines. Although there are no strict guidelines for this on Amara, in languages based on the Latin script it's usually good to break the subtitle into two lines if it's longer than 41-44 characters (because a longer line is more difficult to read than a subtitle composed of two lines). "Line-breaking" refers to choosing the place where the line is broken, and also, how to end the whole subtitle. To make a line break in Amara, hit SHIFT+Enter.

Generally, each line should be broken only after a linguistic "whole" or "unit," no matter if it's the only line in the subtitle, or the first or second line in a longer subtitle. This means that sometimes it's necessary to rephrase the subtitle in order to make it possible to break lines without breaking apart any linguistic units, e.g. splitting apart an adjective and the noun that it refers to. Rules for what kind of linguistic unit can be broken vary by language, but these general guidelines can inspire you to make better line-breaking choices in your subtitles.

When to break subtitles - proportional line length

The possible maximum length of a subtitle depends on how long it can stay on the screen. If your maximum length is over 41-44 characters, you need to break the subtitle into two lines. Actually, it's a good idea to break the line if it's over 40 characters, but you can go with the 44 character length limit when it's really difficult to make it shorter. Ideally, the lines in the two-line subtitle should be more or less balanced in length. So, you should break the line like this:

I adopted a dog, a cat,
three mice, and a goldfish.

...and you should not break the line like this:

I adopted a dog,
a cat, three mice, and a goldfish.

Breaking apart linguistic units for line length

However, it may be difficult to achieve balance in length when trying not to break apart linguistic units. For example, these lines are broken in a way that preserves similar length, but breaks the linguistic unit of the adjective "Romance" modifying the noun "languages":

I can speak over ten modern Romance
languages and read Latin pretty well.

In such cases, it is better to go with something less balanced, but preserve the linguistic unit. However, you should try to make the lines balanced enough so that neither is shorter than 50% of the other - sometimes even at the cost of breaking language units (which is only the last resort). If a line is shorter than 50% of the other line, it can often distract the viewer more than reading a line where a linguistic unit is broken.

For example, the lines in this subtitle are not balanced for length (34/16 characters):

I learned more about Jane Elliott
on Wikipedia.

An easy way of making the lines more similar in length would be to put the word "Elliott" in the second line:

I learned more about Jane
Elliott on Wikipedia.

However, this would break apart the proper name "Jane Elliott," which should be avoided at all cost. Proper names are an example of a linguistic unit that should not be divided. In this case, we could consider breaking apart another linguistic unit:

I learned more about
Jane Elliott on Wikipedia.

Here, we broke apart the verb and the complement. Some linguistic units "keep together" more than others, so if you need to go against non-breaking rules, it is better to break apart another unit and keep them unseparated. Proper names are one example of a unit that should be broken as rarely as possible (you can find more examples below).

Clean line breaks through compressing

Sometimes it may be necessary to rephrase the line in order to make it possible not to break apart linguistic units. For example, in subtitles translated into English, instead of going with this subtitle:

I learned more about Jane
Elliott on Wikipedia. may be able to rephrase your translation (depending on the context) to say:

I learned more about her on Wikipedia.
Then, I read the Wikipedia article.
I learned more about Jane Elliott.
I learned more about her.

In subtitling, this type of rephrasing can be referred to as "compressing." Depending on the context, it may be possible to omit some information, if previous subtitles or other sources (a slide, the viewer's general knowledge) are certain to fill the blanks anyway. This way, you can avoid breaking apart any linguistic units. You can learn more about compressing when transcribing talks in this section below and this guide (meant to be used in subtitle translation, but most of the same rules can often be used when transcribing).

Clean line breaks through rephrasing

Of course, rephrasing is not only about making the subtitle so short that it can fit in one line (no longer than 41-44 characters). Sometimes, it's difficult or impossible to compress so much, but you can change the structure of the subtitle to make it easier to break cleanly. For example:

About Jane Elliott,
I learned more on Wikipedia.

Now, this is not necessarily good English, but the target language that you are translating into may allow this sort of phrasing. If possible, try to rephrase the subtitle to make it break cleanly without the need to sever any linguistic units.

Examples of correct and incorrect line-breaking

These examples show incorrect and correct line breaking for various subtitle/line lengths. The possible maximum length of a subtitle depends on how long it can stay on the screen. Unlike in the examples below, line length would normally be different for each subtitle. These examples show line breaks not divided into subtitles of up to two lines (the way we organize lines into subtitles depends on the talk).

Spoken sentence:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose that no one knows and no one shall remember.

Incorrect short line breaks:

This is a
very long, verbose
piece of
prose that
no one knows and
no one shall

Correct short line breaks:

This is a very long,
verbose piece
of prose
that no one knows
and no one
shall remember.

Incorrect medium line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose
piece of prose that no one
knows and no one shall remember.

Correct medium line breaks:

This is a very long,
verbose piece of prose
that no one knows
and no one shall remember.

Incorrect long line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose that
no one knows and no one shall remember.

Correct long line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose
that no one knows and no one shall remember.

Simple rules-of-thumb for line-breaking

It is impossible to provide a list of rules to use with all the languages in the world. Line-breaking rules depend largely on the target language's grammar (and morphology) - on what kind of units are "wholes" in a sentence. The list below contains some rules that can be used in English and several Western-European languages and can serve as an inspiration to searching for similar rules in your own language.

  • The articles (a, an, the) are never followed by a line break.
  • An adjective should stay together with what it is describing, but two or more adjectives can sometimes be separated with commas, and then it is possible (though not preferable) to break a line after one of the commas.
  • Clauses should stay together (never break lines after relative pronouns like which, that, who, etc.).
  • Prepositions are not followed by a line break if the break would separate them from the noun they refer to. A preposition in a concrete/physical meaning (e.g. "The book is in the drawer") always precedes a noun, and cannot be followed by a line break. However, in English, a preposition that is part of a phrasal verb (put up, figure out, take in) may sometimes not be followed by a noun ("I figured it out yesterday"), and so, it can be followed by a line break.
  • Proper names should stay together if at all possible (think of them as a single word with many parts).

Synchronizing line breaks

If possible, the line breaks should be synchronized with pauses between (or within) the speaker's utterances, as this will make it feasible to use the standard 250 ms break between subtitles, and make it easier for the viewers to follow what is being said.

Synchronizing line breaks with long pauses

If the speaker's voice trails off, the subtitle can be displayed over (cover up) the pause, provided that it is possible to adhere to the character length and duration time limits. If this "stitch-up" subtitle would have to stay on the screen for too long, of if the subtitle line covering up the pause would need to exceed the character limit, the first part of the broken utterance (before the speaker's voice trails off) can end in the em dash (--) (TED transcripts do not use dots for this). If the following utterance (after the pause) can be considered as a new sentence, write the first word with a capital letter. If the following part of the utterance cannot be considered as the beginning of a new sentence, it is often necessary to insert a word in square brackets at the beginning of the line, in order to remind the viewer what the speaker talked about before the pause, e.g.:

  • Starting as a new sentence after the pause

And there are many things that I like a lot, my books, my iPad...
(3 seconds of applause) bicycle, my cats and my hat collection.

And there are many things that I like a lot, my books, my iPad--
My bicycle, my cats and my hat collection.
  • Reminding the viewer what was said before the pause

My grandmother liked many things, she read a lot, played games on her iPad...
(3 seconds of applause)
...rode her bicycle, talked to her cats and bought new hats for her collection.


My grandmother liked many things, she read a lot, played games on her iPad--
[She] rode her bicycle, talked to her cats and bought new hats for her collection.

Cuts and on-screen changes

Subtitles function almost as an additional layer of editing, because they can connect or divide up cuts and scenes. The transcriber must bear this in mind when synchronizing the subtitles and breaking the lines, and should make sure that the line breaks reflect on-screen changes, preserving the flow of the video. Very often the subtitle will need to reflect on-screen content, such as when the speaker refers directly to visual information presented on a slide, or talks about something in the immediate physical environment (e.g. miming something while describing it).

Cueing and line-breaking for translation

Thanks to the Open Translation Project, every talk has a chance of being translated into many different languages. Keeping the lines within the character limit, ensuring adequate on-screen duration and putting line breaks in the correct places also helps the translators in creating foreign-language subtitles that are easy to follow and carry the original message across. Due to differences between languages, a short subtitle in English may turn out to be quite long in the target language, and vice versa. Even though the translators are able to compress the form of the translated subtitle, e.g. by omitting padding expressions and simplifying the syntax[10], sometimes such compression may be impossible. The most difficult cases are acronyms (e.g. "PTA meeting", "FDA approval"). Because the target language may not have a recognizable acronym for the same concept, the translators must very often use the full form of the name. Even though the translators are able to alter subtitle duration time, most inexperienced volunteers will prefer to keep the original duration. For this reason, it is advisable to use the acronym when the speaker uses it, but to try to make the duration of the subtitle containing the acronym a little longer (e.g. lagging one second), if possible, to allow more on-screen time for the translation of the full form of the name that the acronym refers to.

Spelling and punctuation

It is important to decide on a spelling convention before starting the transcript. TED transcripts use US spelling and punctuation rules (see the Wikipedia article on American and British English spelling differences). Such choices are also important when working in other languages with several regional variations (e.g. Spanish/Castilian or Portuguese).

Commas, colons and semicolons

A subtitle should preferably not end in a colon or semicolon, because these characters are not very visible at the end of the line[11]. The most common punctuation mistakes result from misusing the comma. While working in English, it is advisable to review the differences between comma use in American English and British English before starting the transcript.[12].


Subtitles reflect spoken language, and thus should not contain elements typical to written language. "E.g." for "for example" and "i.e." for "that is" should not be used in subtitles. Abbreviations of any kind should not be added if they had not been used by the speaker, in spite of the fact that they may make a difficult subtitle shorter. The only exceptions to this are standard abbreviations for units of measurement (e.g. ft for "feet").


Capitalization rules vary from language to language. If the speaker is citing a title in English, or using a word that is capitalized in English, the transcript should conform to the appropriate English spelling rules (British or American). However, if the speaker is citing a title in their first language, the transcript should employ capitalization rules for that language. This also covers cases where the title or proper name is transliterated and does not have an established translation in English (or any language being transcribed).

Spelling in titles

Most words in movie and book titles, and usually in song titles, are capitalized in English (for which words not to capitalize, see Capitalization in Titles at the Writer's Block website). The rules governing the capitalization of article, report and paper titles vary, with some sources suggesting that the words in the title should be capitalized according to the rules for capitalizing book titles[13], while others suggesting that only the first word of such titles should be written with a capital letter[14]. TEDTalks titles follow the latter convention, with only the first word in the title capitalized (the first word in the talk title is almost always the speaker's first name). If the talk title contains a colon after the speaker's name, the first word after the colon is capitalized (e.g. "Paul Bloom: The origins of pleasure"[15]).

While book and movie titles are normally written in italics, TED transcripts do not use rich formatting and therefore putting text in italics is not possible. Quotation marks should be used instead (single or double, depending on whether the transcript should conform to British or American spelling rules, respectively). If a speaker forgets a title in English and replaces it with the equivalent from their first language, the English title should be written in square brackets, e.g.:


You know, she's like the bear in... "Pu der Bär".


You know, she's like the bear in ["Winnie the Pooh"].

One exception to this is when the speaker or somebody in the audience immediately recollects the English title, or any other reference is made in the talk to the speaker's using a title from a different language. In such cases, using a title from a different language becomes part of the talk, and the original title must be kept.

Capitalization in proper names

Proper names are words used for unique entities. Proper names are capitalized in English. Multi-word proper names usually follow the capitalization rules for book titles, with most of the words capitalized [16].

Many words have a different meaning when capitalized. For example, according to the International Astronomical Union guidelines, the word "sun" should be capitalized when referring to the unique entity in Earth's solar system (i.e. the Sun), but is not capitalized when used as a common noun signifying a star in another system.[17]

Special characters

Em dash

TED and TEDx transcripts use an em dash instead of dots. An em dash entered as two consecutive hyphens (--) is converted into a proper em dash. An em dash (—) can also be inserted into a text file (like a subtitle file) by holding down the Alt key and typing 0151 on the numeric keyboard.

Accented letters

Many accented letters found in languages that use the Latin alphabet (e.g. ó, ö), as well as commonly used special characters (e.g. ©), can be easily typed on Windows and OS X using a number of codes. Otherwise, one can insert a special character in a rich-formatted word processor (like LibreOffice Writer) and then copy it and paste into the online or offline subtitling tool that you are using. This method will not work with all special characters. The "Computing with Accents, Symbols and Foreign Scripts" website from Penn State University offers a very useful guide to typing special characters in Windows and OS X.

Importantly, such characters may be necessary even in English-language transcripts, when they appear in proper names without an established English transliteration, e.g. "Jónas Hallgrímsson" (the name of an Icelandic poet).


Most offline subtitling tools offer a spellchecking feature. In online subtitling tools, plugins for the web browser can check the spelling of any text entered into a box. Alternatively, an exported subtitle file can be opened in a word processor with a spellchecking feature. If the particular word processor does not work with UTF-8 encoded text, open the file in any text editor that supports this format, and then copy and paste the text into the word processor. After making changes, copy the text in the word processor and paste it back into the subtitle file opened in the text editor.

Sound information

Sound representation in a transcript is meant to enable deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers (as well as viewers watching the talk without the sound on) to understand all the non-spoken auditory information that is necessary to comprehend the talk to the same degree that a hearing audience potentially would. In TED transcripts, sound information is enclosed in parentheses, with the first word starting with a capital letter. There are generally two types of sound information used in TED transcripts: sound representation and speaker identification.

Common sound representation

The most common sound representations in TED/TEDx transcripts are:

  • (Laughter) - for laughter that fills any time in the talk where the speaker is not saying anything
  • (Applause) - for applause (clapping) that fills any time in the talk where the speaker is not saying anything
  • (Music) - for music that fills any time in the talk where the speaker is not saying anything

Uncommon sound representation

There are many possible types of sounds that need to be represented in the transcript. For example, at this point in this TEDxKrakow talk[18], the transcript contains the phrase "(Phone rings twice)." The fact that the phone rings was represented in the transcript because the speaker pauses, and the slide with the phone is made prominent. Without the sound representation, a non-hearing viewer may have been confused as to why the speaker paused (why there are no subtitles representing spoken utterances) and what was meant to be conveyed by the slide with the picture of an old-style telephone. Additionally, the example of the phone ringing is referred to later in the talk, which serves as another reason why the sound representation must be there. However, in this particular talk, it was important not only to point out that the phone rang, but that it rang twice. The information about the phone ringing twice was included because the speaker later contrasted this audio example to the phone ringing only once. Because of this, the "sound information" that needed to be represented in the transcript became "phone ringing twice." If the speaker just intended to play the sound of a phone ringing in their talk, it would not be necessary to point out that the sound consisted of two separate rings, and the sound representation would thus simply be "(Phone ringing)."

Speaker sounds

Important sound information can also include sounds made by the speaker, e.g. (Gasping), (Hooting). It is necessary to represent these sounds if they are not made accidentally, but instead constitute an important part of the talk, e.g.:

Do you know how I felt after talking the whole day? (Gasping) I had to take a day off after that.

These types of speaker sounds must also be represented in the transcript if they are later referred to in some way, even if the sound was produced accidentally (e.g. if the speaker clears his throat and says "I wish they gave us more water").

Environmental sounds

There are sounds that are not an important part of the talk and elicit no visible reaction from the speaker or the audience (e.g. a shutter sound from somebody taking a picture in the audience), and so, they do not need to be represented in the transcript. The only exception to this rule is when a coincidental sound causes the speaker or the audience to react in a visible way. For example, if somebody in the audience drops a plastic bottle and the speaker jumps and then laughs, the sound of the bottle falling needs to be represented, in order to give the non-hearing viewers an idea of why the speaker reacted in this manner.

Speaker identification

Speaker changes need to be represented in the transcript. Additional speakers may appear if the speaker who began the talk is joined by another speaker on stage (e.g. for a question-and-answer session), or if video or audio material featuring spoken utterances is included in the talk. In TED transcripts, speakers are indicated by their full names and a colon the first time they appear, and by their initials (no periods) when they appear again in the same conversation. Consider this example:

Oh, you've got a question for me? Okay. (Applause)

Chris Anderson: Thank you so much for that. You know, you once wrote, I like this quote,
"If by some magic, autism had been eradicated from the face of the Earth, then men
would still be socializing in front of a wood fire at the entrance to a cave."

Temple Grandin: Because who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. (...)

CA: So, I wanted to ask you a couple other questions. (...) But if there is someone here
who has an autistic child, or knows an autistic child and feels kind of cut off from them,
what advice would you give them?

TG: Well, first of all, you've got to look at age. (...)

Source: Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds[19]

Re-identifying speakers

If some time has passed since a given speaker was introduced, when they start speaking again, they need to be re-identified by their full name, not just the initials. For example, if a talk by speaker X features a short video with speaker Y, and the video is paused and then continued five minutes later into the talk, speaker Y must be identified again by their full name when they start speaking in the video again, because without access to sound information, a non-hearing viewer may not be able to tell that it is the same speaker as in the first part of the video.

Identifying off-camera voices

Any comment from off-camera also needs to be identified by the speaker's name. If the comment comes from the audience, it can be identified generically with just the word "audience" used as a sound representation cue, i.e.:

(Audience) I want to add something!

Editing/compressing the talk

When working on subtitles, one is normally required to compress, omit certain linguistic items from the original spoken dialog (e.g. padding, emphasizing constructions), and rephrase certain complex syntactic structures to make the subtitle easier to follow (e.g. changing the Passive Voice into Active Voice).[20] In contrast, TED transcripts are by convention altered much less in this regard. Nevertheless, there are many cases where some degree of editing is necessary to preserve the speaker's intended meaning.

Types of linguistic issues that may need editing

Mistakes that may change the intended message of the talk are especially apparent in TEDx talks delivered in English by non-native speakers. In each case, however, one needs to be very careful not to alter the speaker's intended meaning while editing the transcript, and if there is any doubt as to whether altering part of the original talk may result in changing the intended meaning, it may be preferable to retain the original wording or consult with the speaker before making any modifications.

Types of mistakes that may require editing include:

  • Mispronouncing certain words, which results in an unintended change of meaning, e.g. "Lost my beat" instead of "Lost my bit"
  • Using a grammatical construction from the speaker's first language and thus altering the meaning of the particular sentence, e.g. "Apples eats Mary" used to mean "Mary eats apples"
  • Using a word or term incorrectly, where the context establishes without a doubt that a different meaning was intended, e.g. "Harvard, Stanford and other high schools like them" used to mean "Harvard, Stanford and other [universities] like them"
  • Morphological mistakes, e.g. using the singular instead of the plural, using the present form of the verb instead of the past, etc.
  • Problems with pronouns: "she/he" instead of "it" used by speakers whose first language distinguishes genders
  • Code-switching, i.e. accidentally using a word or phrase from the speaker's first language, or from a different language than the main language of the talk, e.g. "And then, he met an einhorn" used to mean "And then, he met [a unicorn]"
  • Slips of the tongue and run-on phrases (where the speaker changes their mind about what to say, altering a word while it is being spoken): "In the firs-previous slide" used to mean "In the previous slide" (slips of the tongue usually do not require brackets)

Using square brackets to mark editing

If changes need to be made, provided that the item being changed does not exceed roughly 75% of the subtitle, it should be put in square brackets, in order to emphasize that the words in the brackets are a rephrased version of what is actually being said (e.g. "And when she is hungry, apples eats Mary" --> "And when she is hungry, [Mary eats apples]."). If more than 75% of the line needs to be rephrased, in order to maintain clarity and make the subtitle easier to read, it may be advisable to forego using the square brackets altogether, and instead treat the line as the result of monolingual translation (translation between one variety of one language into another variety - here, from ungrammatical to grammatical phrases).

Examples of changes in transcripts

Incorrect vocabulary

ORIGINAL: (...) they know, from generation to generation, how to protect and prevent the land (...).

EDITED: (...) they know, from generation to generation, how to protect and [preserve] the land (...).
Source: Jadwiga Łopata: Food Sovereignty and the Family Farm[21]
ORIGINAL: These people are in many areas more vulnerable, or sensible (...).

EDITED: These people are in many areas more vulnerable, or [sensitive] (...).
Source: Łukasz Cichocki on the Pan Cogito hotel[22]

Slip of the tongue

ORIGINAL: I'm over and over again (...) intrigued the profound effects such movement lessons may have on us,(...)

EDITED: I'm over and over again (...) intrigued [by] the profound effects such movement lessons may have on us,(...)
Source: Jacek Paszkowski on the Feldenkreis Method[23]
ORIGINAL: They were the first on the market, and they are the leader, that is no doubt.

EDITED: They were the first on the market, and they are the leader, [there is] no doubt.
Source: Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński: Think different - it's still extremely up to date[24]

Multiple syntactic issues, repetition

I was several times asked by journalists
why in Wrocław there is possible some things
which is not possible or would not be possible
in Warsaw or even in Cracow.

I was asked several times by journalists
why some things are possible in Wrocław
which are not or would not be possible
in Warsaw or even in Cracow.
Source: Mirosław Miller: Dream Dealers from Wrocław[25]

What not to edit

Importantly, editing the talk (i.e. not transcribing verbatim) should be limited to cases where preserving the original wording would make it very difficult or impossible to follow the meaning of the talk. There may be words and phrases in the talk that do not conform to the transcriber's standards of style, such as colloquialisms/slang, swear words, and stylistic and grammatical issues that do not make it impossible to understand the talk (e.g. double negatives). Changing words like these based on the transcriber's preference or beliefs about grammatical correctness amounts to altering the speaker's style, and as such should be avoided on ethical grounds.

External links

Subtitling articles and guidelines

Subtitling tools

Online subtitling tools

Offline subtitling tools

All of the offline tools listed below are freeware. Most of them can also be used to convert between subtitle formats.


Character encoding

Other tools

Playing videos with .srt subtitles

Most offline subtitling tools can also be used to play the video with subtitles. However, stand-alone players are usually more convenient.

For more information on how to play videos with subtitles, including instructions on obtaining subtitles to TEDTalks to play with the videos, see this guide.

Spelling and punctuation




  1. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  2. Gottlieb, Henrik. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Subtitling. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  3. Williams, Gareth Ford, Ed. BBC Online Subtitling Editorial Guidelines V1.1. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  4. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  5. Chee Fun Fong, Gilbert. Dubbing and Subtitling in a World Context, p.94. Chinese University Press, 2009.
  6. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  7. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  8. Ofcom. Guidance on Standards for Subtitling: General Requirements for Subtitle Display. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  9. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  10. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  11. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  12. Kosur, Heather M. More Punctuation Rules for Commas in English. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  13. The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing. Section 9.1. Capitalization. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  14. Baker, David S. and Lynn Henrichsen. APA REFERENCE STYLE: Articles in Journals. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  15. Bloom, Paul. The origins of pleasure. Talk delivered at TEDGlobal 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  16. The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing. Section 9.1. Capitalization. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  17. International Astronomical Union. Naming Astronomical Objects. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  18. Moskal, Paweł. Medical imaging with anti-matter. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  19. Grandin, Temple. The world needs all kinds of minds. Talk delivered at TED2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  20. Karamitroglou, Fotios. Subtitling Standards -- A Proposal. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  21. Łopata, Jadwiga. Food Sovereignty and the Family Farm. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  22. Cichocki, Łukasz. Łukasz Cichocki on the Pan Cogito hotel. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  23. Paszkowski, Jacek. Jacek Paszkowski on the Feldenkreis Method. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  24. Iwiński, Marcin and Michał Kiciński. Think different - it's still extremely up to date. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  25. Miller, Mirosław. Dream Dealers from Wrocław. Talk delivered at TEDxKrakow 2010. Retrieved 2011-08-03.