Re: Screen captures

Subject: Re: Screen captures
From: "William Sherman" <bsherman77 -at- embarqmail -dot- com>
To: "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2013 12:08:26 -0500

People generally are analog instead of digital. In cars, gauges are typically analog gauges for a reason - much quicker to assimilate the information. Many seem to associate digital gauges as more accurate as they have a number (43 lb psi, 197 deg F) rather than a needle somewhere between lines on a gauge face, but it has been shown that a driver can glance across gauges and determine good/bad conditions much faster than reading each number, associating it with the permissible range, and then deciding if it is good or bad.

When it comes to screen captures versus text, a person can grasp that screen capture much faster than reading those lines of text.

That said, I have worked on software that was so well written, documentation was unnecessary, which makes me nervous. I have worked on some that even with a 300 page book, you were probably lost most of the time. I have worked on some that each screen or window were so much like the others that you never knew if you were going down the right path or the wrong path. Some would have multiple choices that were so similar, unless someone pointed to the correct one, you probably would pick the wrong one.

Yes, I know, that is poor GUI design, but unfortunately, there used to be a lot of that out there. (See what success the lowly tech writer has convincing the elite programmer his design is bad, especially in a software company.)

As such, I think a plain screen capture doesn't help much over what a person sees on the screen. If you are putting a capture in, there needs to be some reason and visual indication why, such as circling the third choice on the screen to select, or how a mouse-over tip comes up, or whatever happens or needs to happen that isn't intuitively obvious. If you haven't edited and modified the capture as artwork, it probably isn't needed.

Often when I am writing docs for software the first time, I capture every screen in sequence. This makes an incredibly long and large document, but it is only for me as a reference. Then I select only the ones needed the most to include in the document.


If I am writing for my wife's mother-in-law, I'd need short words, large font, and lots of pictures. And odds are she'd still get it wrong.

If I am writing for my nephew with the laptop, Nook, iPhone, and rest, I probably only need ten lines of text as he is probably going to throw it away anyway.

Remember, most people never use the documentation until they are in trouble. Then they need all the help they can get.

Can they get it from your documentation or do they have to call the Help line?

----- Original Message ----- From: "Anonymous" <anonymous -at- techwhirl -dot- com>
To: "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Sunday, February 10, 2013 12:13 PM
Subject: Screen captures

Please post all responses to the list as individual replies will not be
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My current position has a corporate policy that discourages screen
captures. In the documents I'm working on (I just inherited them) there are
numerous screen captures. Right now for pretty much each procedure that
spawns a new screen or dialog box there's a screen capture at the start of
the procedure. It's a complex software product and I believe the screen
captures add value. I don't believe we've surveyed either the development
team or the user community. The documents are currently published as PDFs
but may be additionally be converted into web-based documents in the future
(both the PDF version and the web-based version would be available to

How much value do you believe screen captures add?

Are you aware of any research as to how much either real or perceived value
screen captures add?

Do users want them even if we don't (they can add significant maintenance
issues but I'm okay with that)?

I'm considering proposing using conditional text capabilities and have a
couple possible scenarios:

One would be to produce two versions of the documents... one with screen
captures and one without.

For the HTML-based version, an option would be to produce documents with
clickable thumbnails that would allow the reader to expand the thumbnail of
any screen capture to full size. The clickable screen captures would have
to have their own home on a server somewhere.

Thank you.

STC Vice President Nicky Bleiel is giving a free webinar on best practices
for creating mobile help.

Learn more:


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