Transcribers as Captionists: What’s In a Name?

Boy at desk watching remote teacher and live captions on computer

We used to be real sticklers about referring to TypeWell service providers as “transcribers” rather than “captionists.” That’s because we specialize in training our speech-to-text professionals to produce real-time transcripts, which are complete, textual records of full-length classes or meetings.

We customarily reserved “captioning” to refer to the production of captions which, by definition, are short phrases of text that appear either beneath an image (explaining what the people in the image are doing or saying), or near the bottom of a video (to display the text of what is being said in the video).

So, the label “captionist” was reserved for other specialized professionals, such as those who add descriptive text to images or videos, or who provide broadcast captions for the live television industry.

Our specialty is—and always has been—providing students with access to spoken communication in real time, by typing accurate, full-length transcripts. Those same transcripts are then saved, proofread, and provided to the students to review after class as a study tool. As such, we call ourselves transcribers.

In today’s virtual world, however, many TypeWell transcribers are producing both full-length transcripts and live captions simultaneously. For example, in Zoom videoconferences, participants might view our transcripts as “subtitles”—i.e., short segments of text that appear for several seconds at a time in a box of text near the bottom of the Zoom app.

By definition, these subtitles in Zoom are functioning visually as captions. And so, although we still don’t easily interchange the unique skillsets of transcribers and captionists, it is becoming easier to view (and label) TypeWell transcribers as “captionists.”