Posted by: Jack Henry | March 13, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Don’t Use Too Many Screenshots

Screenshots can keep readers focused while performing a complicated task, but too many screenshots can become a distraction. Unnecessary screenshots also make documentation harder to maintain.

Some writers feel obligated to include a screenshot with every step. They think, “Someone might find this screenshot useful, so I might as well throw it in.”

It’s better to take the opposite approach. Ask yourself, “Will the reader be able to follow this step without a screenshot?” If the answer is yes, leave the screenshot out.

Consider the following step:

Example: In the Margins section, set the Top field to 1.5".

This step is well-written and easy to understand. The screenshot creates clutter and adds no new information.

Screenshots Make Documentation Harder to Maintain

Superficial changes to the user interface rarely affect written instructions, but they can cause screenshots to become outdated.

For example, new fields may be added, existing fields may be rearranged, or icons may be changed. Unless you are vigilant about updating screenshots, readers might stop to wonder why their screens don’t look like the example.

The JHA Style Guide says, “Limit the use of screenshots and images in article text. Only use them when necessary for clarification. Do not overuse screenshots or use them to convey a concept that is already fully explained by the article text.”

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

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  1. I read this and I am not sure I fully agree with it. I see the point of what is being explained; that too much screen capture can be clutter or redundant.

    From experience, having had to explain subject material in articles I have written, to those I would deem as professionals, screen shots tend to provide the examples needed for clarification, more times than not. Software, especially visual software, seems to always need visual guidance, especially to a more visually oriented generation. I think a combination of both words and images are a requirement these days.

    In other words I don’t feel it’s an obligation, but I do feel it’s a necessity to provide guidance, and prevent what I call “callbacks”. This is where multiple individuals are repeatedly asking for clarification on a topic I have attempted to document. I usually try to go through a review process with a peer group to try and prevent his, but I generally always end up adding a screenshot for clarification.

    I am not real sure, but:

    1. I am not wording the articles correctly.
    2. I am not providing enough detail in words.
    3. I am providing too much detail in words.
    4. My audience does not comprehending the subject material at all and requires step by step guidance with visuals.

    Communication; it’s hard.


    Thomas Scaff
    Core Director Teller™
    3725 East Battlefield
    Springfield, MO 65809
    (417)888-4900 ext 728407


    “Do the right thing, do whatever it takes, and have fun doing it.”

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