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Technical Writers’ Companion

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Which medium to use?

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Effective documents use both verbal and visual coding. Some information can best be given by words, but other information can better be given by still images or by moving images (video).

Instructions that use only text and no images, or instructions that use only images but no text, are often hard to understand.

Each medium (text, images, videos) has its particular strengths and weaknesses. To make your documents as user-friendly and effective as possible, use the different media flexibly:

Where text conveys your message easily, use text.

Where a still image conveys your message more easily than text, use an image.

However, never use an image only for decoration or because you think that it “looks better” than text.

In online documentation: Where moving images (videos, screencasts) convey your message more easily than text or still images, use a video.

However, never use video to impress.

In online documentation: Where it helps users to engage and experiment, even consider adding some interactive elements rather than a prefabricated video.

Try a little thought experiment:

Attempt to show to a group of aliens why we need to eat some food—or simply explain it with text ….

Attempt to explain to the aliens with words how to identify an apple—or simply show them a picture of an apple ….

Attempt to explain to the aliens with words how to peel the apple—or simply show them a short video ….

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