Captioning Corner: What's the Best Theory for Captioners?

By Deanna Baker

An online student asked me what the best theory is if you want to caption. For help with this issue, I turned to caption theory experts Kathy DiLorenzo, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Amy Bowlen, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC.

Kathy responded, "The best theory for captioners? I'd say a realtime theory, no?"

All kidding aside, that has to be the answer: A realtime theory. It doesn't matter which one it is, it just must allow the writer to produce accurate voice-to-text. In my mind, the best theories out there are the older theories of our time, sensible, easy-to-understand theories that with minor modifications were the most workable and user-friendly. I always say this, I'm still amazed that Karen Finkelstein, Tammie Shedd, and Darlene Parker taught the best realtime theories in the earliest days of realtime. After all the development and science behind theory to date, the best is still the one taught to me back in 1986!

My point there is that they developed clear, concise, logical ways to resolve most of the writing problems of the early realtime days. The few rules that they adopted stretched across all theories and was the clearest, easiest-to-learn realtime that our profession has ever seen. I believe the best realtime writers today use the methods taught from that time, having learned it long ago or having since learned it from books.

"That said, my advice is to find the weaknesses in her theory and use NCI's book or VITAC's book to correct any flaws," Kathy explained. "She'll know the flaws by looking closely at the translation."

Amy added, "I'm glad I waited for Kathy to respond. She responded exactly as I was thinking. I don't know that any one particular theory is king, because I feel that everyone will still need to make modifications to the theory they learn to 'keep it clean.' We all have different size hands and finger lengths, so we can't all write exactly the same and have clean translation. That to me is the most important piece of the puzzle and something that I think teachers may need to focus on in their programs. Teach the theory as is, but then as students progress, spend individual time with them one-on-one so that they can identify those weak points and modify those individually to make each student a better writer.

"It's the same as any experienced writer trying to do realtime or captioning. If a particular theory element prevents you from being a clean writer, then it's wrong for you. So if you can't consistently stroke cleanly *NG for final -NK, try -FRPBG. Entering misstrokes forever won't solve the problem. Students don't know there are options, that they can throw away a theory element and borrow a different one that they can control better. They are trapped in a formula that may not work perfectly for them. If they are taught to write SKP- for exp words, but they misstroke it, it's better to write it in two strokes, because they can keep it clean and also feel more comfortable with the fingering and then enhance speed. At the student level, they think less strokes is speed, not comfort in their ability is speed.

"That's what I'm always trying to drive home to reporters," Amy continued. "Maybe you are a clean writer trapped in a dirty theory. Just tweak those elements that get in your way so the clean writing can shine through."

About the author

Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, is from Flagstaff, Ariz. If you have a question about captioning, you can ask her at