Creating Accessible Transcripts or Captions for Video-Based Learning Resources

Why provide transcripts?

Transcripts are text alternatives to multi-media materials that are used by students who are unable to hear or understand the multi-media material's audio (e.g., because of a disability related to hearing or auditory processing, when learning in noisy environments, when experiencing technological glitches with audio, when students are still learning the language of instruction).

Research indicates that captions and transcripts can benefit all students, whether or not they live with disabilities.  Advantages of transcripts include strengthening student engagement, focus, retention of information, and comprehension of difficult or new vocabulary (Dello Stritto & Linder, 2017; Linder, 2016). Transcripts can also make it easier for students to quickly locate key points made in a multi-media presentation (Linder, 2016).

What is the difference between transcripts and captions?

Both transcripts and captions allow students to access multi-media content by text. Transcripts are plain text alternatives generated from audio or video that are provided along with (but not on) the video or audio file. Captions are text that appears onscreen simultaneously with the video (much like subtitles). The guidelines below are relevant for both transcripts and captions.

How to create accessible transcripts

Step 1: Before creating transcripts, ensure that you have the written permission from the rights holder (e.g., if the video was created by another instructor, a student, or a company). Some copyright licenses do not permit others to alter the material in any way, and that includes transcripts.

Step 2: Generate transcripts manually or by using software (e.g., MS Stream, If you are starting with auto-generated captions or auto-generated transcripts, check for accuracy and make corrections as needed.

Step 3: Create transcripts that are accessible. There is no set design for transcripts, but the following tips are a helpful start:

  • Choose an accessible format, such as HTML or an accessible Word or PDF document.
  • Include only text (i.e., do not include images).
  • Identify the speakers.
    • If a transcript is of a meeting that includes multiple speakers, identify the speaker in the transcript by name, if possible. If that’s not possible, then use “Speaker 1:”, “Speaker 2:”, etc.
  • Organize the transcript.
    • Use the styles feature to create headings. Headings can be particularly useful for students when navigating a long transcript. Some experts recommend showing headings in brackets to indicate that they are not part of the original audio (e.g., [Introduction]; [Group Discussion]).
    • For multiple speakers, you can use indents or show the speaker’s name in bold, so that the document is easier to scan.
  • Use descriptive text where appropriate.
    • If the speaker refers to a visual, such as a figure or a table, but does not describe the information in that figure or chart (e.g., “Figure 1 shows the direction of this trend”) then the transcript must include a description of the figure, in brackets. (Note: when recording lectures, it is best for the presenter to describe a visual when referring to it for a variety of reasons; not everyone will be able to view the visuals (e.g., technical difficulties). Some learners will rely solely on audio or transcripts.)
    • In brackets, include descriptions of relevant emotions and other nuances of speech (e.g., “Please stay with me” [whispered]).
    • In brackets, include description of relevant non-speech audio (e.g., “[gas being released from a compressed nitrogen tank]”).
  • What to omit:
    • Descriptions of background noise that are not relevant to the content.
    • Timestamps (unless including a timestamp is relevant and important to navigation).

Step 4: Make the transcript available with the video/audio. The best practice is to place a hyperlink to the transcript directly below the accompanying audio or video, labelled “Transcript”. If transcripts are provided together in a separate location, use meaningful hyperlinks (e.g., “Lecture 3 Transcript”).


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact. 

References and Resources

teaching tips

 This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Creating Accessible Transcripts or Captions for Video-Based Learning Resources. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.