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Technical Writers’ Companion

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Images of software

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Screenshots that show the documented software are the most frequently used form of visualization in software documentation.

There are a few things that make screenshots special:

Screenshots are easy to take. No camera and no special equipment are needed. Also, you don’t need to draw a screenshot manually. All you must do to capture a screen is to press a button.

Screenshots contain text. Other than with most photos of hardware, you need a different version of the screenshot for each language into which you’re going to translate your documentation.

Software is made for processing data. Thus, most software user interfaces also show data—so will your screenshots. It can be much more work to populate the user interface with meaningful sample data than to take the screenshot itself.

For translations, the sample data may also need to be translated.

Other than most hardware products, software typically gets many updates during its life cycle. So you’ll also need to update many of your screenshots multiple times.

These characteristics result in the following particular best practices for working with screenshots:

How many screenshots to show?

Use a real screenshot or an illustration?

What to show in a screenshot?

When to include the mouse pointer?

Don’t maximize the windows to capture

Get rid of dead space

Avoid confusion with the real UI

Use standard settings

With web applications, don’t show the browser

Show meaningful data

Hide private data

If it saves you time, fake a screenshot

Optimize each screenshot for its particular purpose

Tips for taking screenshots

Tips for translating screenshots

All general principles for working with images apply as well. Therefore, also see:

Common basics of visualization

Images in general

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