Argh! Question about screen captures

Subject: Argh! Question about screen captures
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Pro TechWriter <pro -dot- techwriter -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 03 Dec 2007 10:12:08 -0500

Pro TechWriter wondered: <<I am getting comments that the screen
captures don't match (they don't--the developer used two or three
different physical servers to do the captures on, and one of them
even had Windows Classic window styling).>>

Although consistency of appearance is highly desirable, it's probably
one of those things that can be sacrificed if other more important
issues must still be solved. The most important point is that the
images must be accurate (i.e., they must match what the users will
see in terms of their content). After all, unless you're publishing
in color (which it seems you aren't), they'll all be in black and
white and won't exactly match the screen display anyway. So some
level of difference is always acceptable in a pinch.

Time permitting, you should still redo the screen caps on a single
computer, and ideally use the same platform that most of the users
will be using. Visual consistency is sufficiently important that it's
worth striving for.

<<Someone else created some older captures that I was given to use,
that were already annotated with big, thick red circles. I don't
normally use red for annotations due to the (1) printing in black and
white, it fades away and (2) to avoid problems for people who are
color blind. I don't use circles either; I use a rectangle to
highlight buttons and text fields, and use arrows with notes (if the
window is complicated) to get my point across.>>

Sounds like a reasonable approach, but with a caveat about (2):
"colorblindness" refers to a collection of visual deficits, of which
red-green colorblindness is only the most common. It's also important
to note that people with this visual deficit (mostly men) can still
see both red and green: the problem is that they cannot distinguish
between the two colors visually unless they differ in some other
characteristic. If you need to use red and green in a color image
(e.g., the user manual for traffic lights), the easiest solution is
to ensure that the two colors have a different value (that is, a
different "black" content). You can tell whether you succeeded if you
print the image on a black and white laser printer and can still see
the difference between the two colors.

<<In screen capture, what do you use for screen annotations (circles,
squares, arrows, nothing, color, no color?) and (2) do you have any
research or sources to back up your choices?>>

It's been a while since I did this, but when I did, I used a very
effective approach that I found recommended in some journal paper
(I've long since forgotten where). Using an image editor such as
- Use the selection tool to select the area of greatest importance in
the image (the one you'll be referring to).
- Invert the selection (so that your next actions affect only the
portion of the image outside the important area).
- "Fade out" that portion of the image. How to do this depends on
your software. For example, if you're working in greyscale, you can
reduce the saturation of the colors or use the bar graph that shows
the distribution of color intensities for the interval from white to
black; in the latter case, you grab the handle that represents the
black end of the scale and drag it towards the white end of the scale.

The result is that the background of the image remains sufficiently
visible that readers retain the overall context (e.g., they know
where to look within a screen or dialog box) but the higher intensity
of the area that you didn't fade makes that area more visually
prominent (it attracts and focuses attention without being
distracting). Add any callout arrows (e.g., a numbered series of
steps) around the periphery of the graphic that are necessary to call
attention to any details that are particularly important.

Does it work? I have only anecdotal evidence, not good statistics. My
audience liked the approach, and it was supported by research (the
aforementioned long-forgotten journal article), so it's worth trying.
Test it out on your own audience and see what they think!

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
***Now available*** _Effective onscreen editing_


Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
printed documentation. Features include support for Windows Vista & 2007
Microsoft Office, team authoring, plus more.

True single source, conditional content, PDF export, modular help.
Help & Manual is the most powerful authoring tool for technical
documentation. Boost your productivity!

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- web -dot- techwr-l -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.


Argh! Question about screen captures: From: Pro TechWriter

Previous by Author: Thoughts on an Editing Portfolio?
Next by Author: MS Word screws up yet ANOTHER project?
Previous by Thread: Re: Argh! Question about screen captures
Next by Thread: Re: Argh! Question about screen captures

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads