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Screenshot Tips for Tech Writers
2015, Q1 (January 16, 2015)
By Ben Davidson, Chapter Member
Photo of Ben
Ben Davidson

In no order of importance, here are some tips for taking screenshots. Hopefully a few of these tips are new to you and prove useful. If you have tips of your own to add, feel free to share them in the comments section.
  1. Trying to take a screenshot of field that exceeds the vertical resolution of your monitor? Instead of mucking around in Photoshop trying to blend two different screenshots, switch the orientation on your monitor to Portrait* (which nearly doubles the available resolution on a 1920x1080 monitor). If necessary, bump the browser view size down to 80 or 90% to fit just a bit more content in. However, there's a good chance that breaking up the screenshot into smaller portions (say into fewer rows, grouped by theme) will be more effective than presenting a really long one. Regardless, this is still a good trick to know if you want to grab a single screenshot of UI that has many rows of information. *Just be prepared to experience a wobbly, drunken feeling as you attempt to move your cursor in a straight line. Bonus points to you if your monitor stand offers a portrait mode.
  2. Use two (or more) screenshot apps for different purposes, each with their own save location so that you don’t have to keep switching save folder locations with a single application. I use Fullshot to save screenshots for my user docs to a network location. I use the Windows Snipping Tool to save screenshots of bugs and whatever else. No more switching back and forth between folders if I'd been using a single application for both tasks.
  3. Check the capture quality settings of the screenshot application that you’re using, as these settings could be resulting in slightly lossy image quality. For example, Greenshot’s default quality settings are set to 85%.
  4. If you are using Microsoft Word, paste your screenshots into tables. This gives you more control with how you have them interact with the surrounding text. It also allows you to insert captions in rows below. You can turn off the border lines around the table so that the reader won’t see the table.
  5. Another Word tip: When I was using Word 2010 for work, I noticed that using the Picture (Enhanced Metafile) paste option resulted in crisp image quality.
  6. If you want to capture a cursor-activated pop-up dialog, you will probably need to press the hotkey to take the screenshot. Check the settings for your screenshot application to learn what the default hotkeys are. Or just use the PrtScn key if you are using Windows, and paste the screencap of your desktop into Paint, and then crop accordingly.
  7. If you’re going to resize a dialog box, grab it from the lower right corner so that it resizes in such a way that retains its original proportions.
  8. If you are using Windows 7+, turn off the transparent theme so that background visuals don’t bleed through your screenshot.
  9. If you don’t already know the answer, find out whether or not ALT text (text that a screen reader will read aloud for site-impaired users) is required for the screenshots and other visuals that you are putting in your document.
  10. Avoid including sensitive company information, the names of developers, etc. in your screenshots.
  11. Work with your editor and developers to determine the appropriate amount of screenshots — enough to be helpful, but not so many as to pad the document or unnecessarily illustrate obvious information.

Ben can be reached at benddavidson99 at gmail dot com. Read more articles by Ben. End of article.

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