Captions Tell the Story

Article 2 min
For a caption to be effective, it includes elements to help the reader easily identify key details and context of the story behind an image or video. Those elements are the Who, What, Where, When, Why and/or How. Use the ABCs of caption writing to help you with these elements when writing captions.

DoDI 5040.02 mandates captions that are complete and correct. The DoD VI Style Guide provides guidance for writing captions using the ABCs of caption writing to encapsulate the 5Ws. Read on for some examples of using the ABCs to write effective captions. 

  • Who - the subject or subjects in an image or video
  • What - the action taking place in an image or video
  • Where - the location of the subject or action
  • When - the date, as written per the AP Style Guide
  • Why/How - why the action is being performed or how it is being performed

When constructing your caption, follow the ABCs of effective caption writing: accuracy, brevity and clarity.

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The ABCs of a Great Caption

'A' stands for Accuracy

Your caption is no good to anyone if the information is not accurate down to the last detail.

Example

A U.S. Soldier kneels at the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on the way to Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, March 26, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Angel Ruszkiewicz)

Explanation

This caption example correctly follows the 5Ws and H to fulfill all release of information requirements. By describing the moment in detail, the photo cannot be misinterpreted.

'B' stands for Brevity

A caption should only contain the information necessary to tell the story of the image and not anything else. Be brief and to the point.

Example

Two Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopters fly near the USS Harry S. Truman during a replenishment in the Atlantic Ocean, April 25, 2020.

Explanation

This caption is short and to the point, while still communicating all 5Ws and 1H.

'C' stands for Clarity

Write the information clearly so the viewer does not get confused about the intent of the caption and image.

Example

An Air Force special tactics operator executes a military free-fall jump out of an MC-130J Commando II over the North Sea during a training exercise, April 9, 2020.

Explanation

This caption makes it clear who, what, why, when, where and how this person is jumping out of an aircraft over a body of water.

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