Guidelines for including screenshots in numbered procedures

Subject: Guidelines for including screenshots in numbered procedures
From: tstorer -at- free -dot- fr
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Aug 2005 06:17:12 -0600

Our company's documentation is translated into nine languages, and our
in-house localization counterparts have identified translating screenshots
in numbered procedures as a big and costly headache for them, since for
each language they (or their subcontractors) have to start up the the
localized version of the software and recreate the conditions (user
accounts, document lists, middleware references, etc.) needed to produce
the same screen. They asked us to use fewer screenshots. When we looked
into the issue, we realized that we were indeed using far too many
screenshots that users didn't need.

I came up with the following guidelines for writers to use to determine
whether or not they should include a screenshot in a numbered procedure.
Keep in mind that the software we're documenting is relatively
sophisticated--specific business software, not at all mass-market
applications for rank beginners. One's mileage may vary when writing for a
different audience, of course.

I would appreciate any comments or criticisms.

When to include screenshots in a step procedure

Before adding a screenshot, ask yourself if it answers the following

. Does the screenshot help the user locate the next action in a complex
user interface?
If it does, then users need the screenshot to avoid wasting time peering
at the screen making a decision as to where to guide the mouse. Include
the screenshot.

. Does the screenshot verify the results of an action when there might be
ambiguity, for example if the action can have different results depending
on previously applied settings or previous actions?
If it does, users need the screenshot to check at a glance whether they
have the right onscreen results to continue the procedure. Include the

If one or both of these conditions are met, include the screenshot with a
clear conscience. If neither of them are met, do not include the

Tip: One way to test whether these conditions are met is to ask yourself
if you will need to replace the screenshot by a sentence or more
describing what the screen should look like. If so, you need the



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