Including Screen Captures

Subject: Including Screen Captures
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- PIP -dot- DKNET -dot- DK>
Date: Fri, 24 May 1996 10:05:51 +1

On 23 May Bill Hartzer wrote:

>At a present tech writing position, my pubs manager insists that the
>documentation not have any screen captures. It is said (or the theory
>behind this is) that we do not need to have screen captures for
>several reasons:

>1 - the product changes so much that it would be a bear to keep up
> with the changes and recapturing of screens
>2 - we are supporting many different platforms (UNIX, Windows NT and
95, and OS/2)
>3 - if we can document it well enough, we don't need the screen
> captures
>4 - the doc would be much longer (thus more costs related to
> documentation such as paper costs, etc.) and it's better to have
> shorter manuals

>Has anyone heard of this theory of not including screen captures in
>doc for GUI-based software products? Is the user missing anything by
>not having screen captures in the doc? It _IS_ easier on our end to
>not have to do screen captures, but I'm a little concerned about the
>users. Am I way off base by thinking this way?

In theory I understand your docs manager. His solution is easier for
him! Unfortunately, those people who pay his salary in the very end
- the customers - won't like his ideas. And that's why you are
worried, right?

I am basically in favour of minimalization, too, but not the way
your docs manager proposes. If you think in terms of _user
friendliness_ (= the customers viewpoint) it is easier to solve you
problems, and here are some proven solutions:

1. Different platforms: In the "How to use this manual" section,
explain that this manual covers the same product for several
platforms, and show them by an example, that the difference is
only on the design of standard items like close or resize a
window and the outlook of e.g. buttons, not on the content.
Also explain, that you have chosen to show all screen captures
in the xxx platform in order to make the manual easier to read
by avoiding numerous almost identical pictures, only differing on
points not discussed in that section of the manual.

2. Product changes: Don't document minor graphical changes. They are
equivalent to the different outlook of the different platforms.
And by using the screen captures from one platform only, you have
already reduced your work on new screendumps significantly.
Further, if you use a suitable screen capture programme (I like
DoDot) you can avoid a lot of cropping, further reducing your work
maintaining the manuals.

3. If you e.g. are writing about a variation on the upper half of the
screen, show the upper part of the screen, only. If you are
writing about a dialog box, show the dialog box, only. That
reduces the size of the manual significantly, and it is more user

In general, when you are in doubt, always think: what is most user
friendly? It most often solves your problems finding the right
compromise between a lot of formal or economical demands.

Greetings from Denmark
Peter Ring
PRC - specialists in user friendly manuals and quality measurements on
prc -at- pip -dot- dknet -dot- dk
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