...left as an exercise for the reader--REPORT (long)

Subject: ...left as an exercise for the reader--REPORT (long)
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2006 21:09:11 -0500

Here is the challenge I posted last evening (see results below):

I am corresponding with a customer support person regarding some
not-ready-for-prime-time software that I was asked to download and test.
In our last exchange, this person wanted to see a screenshot of what I
was seeing. Her email included the following:


To do a screen capture,

1. Hit the "Print Screen" button when the window appears.
2. Launch Paint program by clicking on the Windows Start menu ->
Programs -> Accessories -> Paint.
3. After launching the Paint program, go to Edit -> Paste. This will
paste your screen capture into the new image document.
4. Save your new image document in JPG format.
5. Email the JPG file to us.


Now I am not asking any of the pros here to critique that set of
instructions, but it might be an interesting exercise for the student or
newbie members of the list.

So, OFF-LIST PLEASE!!!! send me your new and improved instructions,
taking into account everything you've been taught about writing
procedures for end users.

I'll compile the responses and post them all at once, but if you send
your response to the list now, you will bias other respondents. Let me
know if I have permission to attribute your answer to you by name.

Have fun,


Here are the responses I received (with my comments at the end):



The person who sent this did not explicitly give permission to identify himself or herself:


Well, as you're using Thunderbird (applies to most other clients too, but not web mail), steps 2-4 could be changed to:
2. Paste (Ctrl+V) the image into a new email



From Mitchell Maltenfort:


1) Minimize or close all other program windows. We don't want any distractions.

2) Maximize the window for the software. We want the picture to be as
large as possible.

3) Hit the "Print Screen" button. The screen is now copied to the clipboard.

4) Open the graphics program of your choice.

5) In the new (empty) graphics document, select "paste" from the Edit
window. The screen image from the clipboard now appears in the
graphics window.

6) Optionional step: crop the graphic so that nothing appears on it
except our software window.

7) Save the picture as a JPG. Name it something distinctive, like
"Marguilis Screenshot 1/11/06"

8) Email the JPG to us at wham -at- bamthankyou -dot- mam -dot-


From a pro, sans permission to use name:


1. Use the Paint program to capture the screen.
2, Find the Paint program fron start/programs/acessories/paint
3. When saving use the JPG option.
5. Email the saved JPG screan to the sendder.
5. Before using the paint program press the print-screen key to make the save screen happen.



From John Garison:


To capture a screen:

1. Display the screen you want to capture.

2. Press the Print Screen key. It may appear as 'prt sc' on some keyboards.
This captures the image to the clipboard.

3. Select Windows Start > Programs > Accessories > Paint.
This launches the Paint program used to save the image.

4. In Paint, select Edit > Paste.
This pastes the captured screen image into Paint.

5. In Paint, select File > Save As, specify a file name and location, select JPEG in
the 'Save as type' field, and click Save.
This saves the file using the name and location you specified as a .jpg file.

6. Email the file to xyz -at- abc -dot- com -dot-


From Martha Davidson:


You can capture screen shots (pictures of Windows dialog boxes or other windows on the screen) in a number of ways. The following steps show you how to do this using only tools that are built into Windows.

To capture a screen shot:
1. Make sure the dialog box or window you want to capture is visible on your screen.
2. Do one of the following:
* To capture the entire screen, press the key labeled PrtScr (Print Screen).
* To capture only a single dialog box, select the dialog box, then press Alt+PrtScr.
Windows saves the captured image to the system Clipboard. In either case, you will not see anything happen.

3. From the Windows Start menu, select Programs > Accessories > Paint.
4. Press Ctrl+V (or select Edit > Paste) to paste the captured image into Paint.
TIP: You can edit the image with Paint, to crop out unnecessary portions, if you want.
5. To save the image as a .jpg file:
a. Select File > Save As.
b. In the File name field, specify a name for the captured image.
c. From the Save as type drop-down list, select JPEG.
d. Click Save.
6. Send us the .jpg file as an email attachment.



First here is what I suggested to the customer support person:


1. Open the [APPLICATION] window.
2. Hold down the Alt key and press the Print Screen key.
3. Start Microsoft Word.
4. In a blank document, click Edit > Paste.
5. Save the new document.
6. Email the document to us.


Regarding RESPONSE 1:

The poster assumes that because I am using Thunderbird I can paste the image into an email. Of course this is untrue for anyone (like me) who prefers to send plain text rather than HTML (or RTF, for that matter) email. Therefore trying to use the simplified instructions would be frustrating for many people.

Regarding RESPONSE 2:

The explanations for the steps are chatty but unneeded and inaccurate. In this application, maximizing the window would result in a much larger JPEG but no additional information. Minimizing or closing other windows is unnecessary if you use Alt+PrtScr. There is no reason to "hit" a key; "press" is a better choice. There is no need for quotation marks around the name of a key; initial caps are sufficient to distinguish it. It is a key, not a button. "Open the graphics program of your choice" is presumptuous of the user's knowledge. Step 6 is superfluous.

Regarding RESPONSE 3:

The first instruction, to use the Paint program to capture the screen, is cryptic at best. It is not until step 5 that we learn what needs to be done prior to step 1. However, I think the individual was pulling my leg, so he gets points for having a sense of humor about this.

Regarding RESPONSE 4:

This demonstrates the consequence of John's never having had me review his documents when we worked together. But John's from New Orleans, and all that humidity (perhaps thinned with alcohol) probably affected his brain early on. Right, John?

"Display the screen"? How about "Open the window" instead, just to avoid the arguments about _display_ and to call things what they are? In step 2, I've never seen Prt Sc, but I'll take John's word for it. John, like everyone else, is following the original procedure in terms of using Paint. That's a program most users never touch. People are far more likely to open Word to do anything and everything, and Word does a nice job of letting you paste a screen shot without complaint.

Regarding RESPONSE 5:

Martha's instructions are thorough and detailed. However, this particular procedure was intended to capture a specific application window, not "the dialog box or window you want," nor was there ever any reason to capture the whole screen, and I'm not sure someone who needs instructions at the level of detail Martha wrote would understand the notation (in an emailed procedure, not in a printed manual) "Alt+PrtScr" or "Ctrl+V."


It can be devilishly difficult to write a procedure for something we all do so routinely that we never think about it. But I think this is not a bad exercise for people teaching tech writing at the college level to spring on your students. It certainly beats tying your laces or making a PB&J sandwich.



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RE: Friday Poll Idea (WAS: In love with a word): From: Johnson, Tom
Re: Friday Poll Idea (WAS: In love with a word): From: Dick Margulis

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