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Case Study 9.5: Soundwriting: A Deeper Dive into Captions

Sean Zdenec, associate professor of technical and professional writing at the University of Delaware, has published a book, articles, and blog posts that merit examination if you want to learn more about media accessibility—especially captions. For instance, the captioning section on Zdenec’s website discusses styling and positioning of captions, identity markers, caption color contrast, description of silences, and numerous other issues that emerge when rendering sound in text.


Two brief examples of Zdenec’s work are his posts about color contrast and logocentrism. In “When a Yellow Subtitle Meets a Character from the Simpsons,” Zdenec uses an episode from the Simpsons to discuss the need for customizable caption styling. Whenever the yellow-skinned cartoon characters show up on the Simpsons, captions that are yellow by default may not show up well, as Zdenec demonstrates in the following clip.


Yellow captions against yellow background example


Not only is user customization important but Zdenec advises caption creators to consider the context for their captions—both background images and settings in which captions may be read (the devices people may be using, for instance).


In another post, “Logocentrism,” or the tendency to privilege speech in captions. Zdenec takes a look at a scene from Knight and Day (2010) and shows how, by privileging speech, captions sometimes fail to take into account the function of sounds in context. For instance, he points out how faint background announcements may function less as “information” in a movie and more as mood, affect, or general context for a scene.


For more of Zdenec’s observations and research on sound-writing, check out his website (Sean Zdenec) or his book, Reading Sounds.



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Case Study 9.5: Soundwriting: A Deeper Dive into Captions by Talea Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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