Subtitle Line Conventions
Subtitles comprise a great deal of what we read nowadays. Therefore, their quality is far from irrelevant. In this blog entry, the most important subtitle line conventions, i.e. guidelines, and their importance will be discussed.
Linguistically coherent wholes in the same caption
If the text unit is longer than two lines, it should be divided so that all the lines form a linguistically coherent whole. If there is not enough room, the text should be rephrased. Articles, i.e. a, an and the, should never be followed by a line break. A hyphen can be used to indicate that the sentence continues into the next caption. The following subtitle lines are an example of bad examples of subtitle line breaking:
It was unbelievable how the
competitor managed to
– break his new
equipment during every attempt in
– the competition.
The lines have been broken in an unusual way. Here the article the is followed by a line break, which should not happen as direct the viewer’s attention away from the video. Furthermore, an adjective has been separated from what it is describing, in this case new has been separated from equipment. There is also a preposition which is separated from its noun, namely in the competition, placed in different captions. The placement of the hyphen is not ideal, either. Here is an improved version:
It was unbelievable –
how the competitor broke his new equipment –
during every attempt in the competition.
Logically wholes in the same caption
It is also essential to leave logically clear wholes on the same line, at least in the same caption. Semantic units should not be split. Here is another example of bad subtitling, which demonstrates the importance of keeping the units together:
In Health Rider, I was
interested in the fact that there’s
actually three appliances
in one. You can for example
stretch your muscles unlike
with other appliances
Splitting structures into different subtitles cause the viewer to pay attention to the subtitles instead of the content of the video. It would perhaps have been clearer to keep there are and three appliances in one together, and leave You can for example and stretch your muscles together instead of splitting them into different ones. That way the viewer does not have to wait to finish the sentence. Here is an improved version:
In Health Rider,
I was interested in the fact –
that there are three appliances in one.
You can for example stretch your muscles
unlike with other appliances
Why are they important?
It is important to follow the guidelines because subtitles comprise a great deal of what we read nowadays. They are by no means vague, thoughtlessly or hastily crafted “helpful little texts”. A well drafted subtitle is quick to read and easy to understand and will improve the viewing experience significantly. On the other hand, poorly written subtitles distract the viewer and directs their attention elsewhere, which of course makes the programme pointless as the viewer is considering unclear subtitling choices without focusing on the actual content. More often than not, well crafted subtitles are invisible, meaning that the viewer will not even notice them, whereas poorly made ones distract the viewer.