Below are my notes and highlights from this session at Write The Docs Europe 2016 in Prague. This is part of a series I wrote during the conference. This is not meant to be transcriptions and may have missed points made during they talk. They solely reflect my interpretations of the talk.

When Bad Screenshots Happen to Good Writers

by Swapnil Ogale (15 minute talk)

Imagine you are cruising to release. Everything is reviewed and perfect. Then, at the last minute you need new screenshots. You’re now under the gun to get a new feature that got pushed into the last sprint documented. You turn to the developers and ask for help with screenshots. What they return with with is barely qualifying for the jpg standard.

Why do we have screenshots?

Screenshots are useful when you’re orienting the user in a process or trying to provide context with the user interface. You may also be including them to break up the text walls.

Screenshots are a necessary evil.

86% of technical writers in his small survey do their own screenshots. This is a good thing as it implies access to the system.

Swapnil then showed a parade of bad screen shots. They were busy, blurry, and completely devoid of information. Why are these here? Who reviewed and approved these images?

What people don’t understand is that screenshots are not something we can dictate as being required for every step. They can overwhelm long documents.

Additionally, screenshots are an art form. Everything from taking them to storing them and processing them. Screenshots often need to be tailored for the various display modalities.

Bad screenshots can force you to retrofit your instructions to fit the screenshots you have available.

60% of technical writers said there was nothing about screenshots in their style guide.

Can we fix this?


  • Put screenshot procedures in your style guide.
  • Create a cheat-sheet on how to make screenshots.

Give these instructions to people who offer to help. If they show up with garbage, politely reject it.

Ultimately, screenshots are best when they are applied with a specific purpose. And are taken well.