Do You Use Screenshots in Your Documentation?

Bradley Nice
Mar 5 · 3 min read

by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp — all-in-one help authoring tool

A screenshot, also known as screen capture, is a digital image that shows the contents of a computer display. Taking into account the fact that, on the whole, around 30 brain neurons and 50% of the cerebral cortex participate in processing the image information, one way or another, we can say that most people are hypothetically visual learners. So the obvious answer to the question of whether screenshots are important or not in documentation is yes. But there are a lot of disputes around the necessity and practicability of screenshots in the documentation among tech writers themselves.

The reasoning of those who are against excessive screenshotting is the following:

  1. Screenshots are only important to the documentation if they add value to the material. If you have a task that is only about several steps long, but the writer has included a screenshot every step of the way, it overflows the task and makes it look more difficult than it is.
  2. Graphics takes time — it takes just as long to create persuasive visuals as it does to write instructions.
  3. For some audiences, screenshots aren’t important, so they probably shouldn’t be important to their technical writer either. For example, you would not tell a developer how to use a mouse; in fact, they may find it insulting that you suggest they are using a mouse at all!
  4. Every time your document gets modified, screenshots must get updated. And if you used a lot of them, imagine the future task.
  5. Users may be overly attracted to the visual and miss important points in the explanatory text.

Advocates, on the other hand, say that:

  1. Documentation isn’t nearly as complicated as it appears. Write clearly and concisely. Get to the point. Don’t beat around the bush. If the screenshots make the document better, no one will care about bigger.
  2. If you have a valid use for screenshots, you can use them and make reading more interesting. The last thing anyone wants is to have some critical warning buried in a long-winded ramble.
  3. Identify the specific types of readers; it helps to develop the depth of your documentation.
  4. It’s easier to find something important when it stands out.
  5. If you want to see the type of situation where screenshots are necessary, try configuring SSL in IIS using one procedure for all operating systems with no pictures. There are just too many very complex settings with arcane navigation steps to do without pictures.

These two sides articles demonstrate the varying opinions. Screenshots are time-consuming to create and maintain; thus, technical writers disfavor them. However, users seem to love them, and there is evidence that suggests that visual learning is both preferred and more effective so if you decide that screenshots are necessary for your document, here’s how to make them right.

Have a nice day!

Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors

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Bradley Nice

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Content Manager at https://medium.com/level-up-web 👈. I write about web design, web development and technical writing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Geek Culture

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