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TechComm Zen: Balance of Text and Screenshots in User Manuals

Posted by
Anastasia in Documentation UX on 10/26/20173 min read

Zen

The numbers paint an accurate picture: visual content rules the digital world. Articles that feature relevant images get about 94% more views than content without graphics. Moreover, the human brain is wired to respond better to visual stimuli than text. In fact, we process images 60,000 times faster than the written word.

That’s undoubtedly huge.

But, when it comes to technical writing, the question is - what matters more: text or images? The short answer is - both are crucial. What makes the difference between user documentation that engages and one that falls flat is striking the right balance between the two.

Here’s how to do it.

Understand the Goal of Your Project

How to design your knowledge base depends heavily on your goal. It sets the structure of your content and the points you need to touch on to ensure that users get an answer to every possible question they might have. These considerations will also help you determine how you need to approach the content to make it easier to digest and comprehend.

Images

Note that whatever your goal might be, the screenshots you are going to include should meet certain standards. We have a quick read to offer - Taking Screenshots Right. It explains in simple words how to make screenshots of great quality.

Consider Your Audience’s Expectations

When it comes to creating user documentation, it’s important to consider what your audience expects. Users might not expect to find too many screenshots in a document that explains how the software works - a lot of things can be explained via lists of steps. And, the Google Chrome documentation proves it - screenshots are extremely rare there, just well-structured and very concise instructions.

But, if clients purchase a professional photo camera, they certainly want to find a user manual that features descriptive images about how to set and use the device.

The Medium Plays an Important Role Too

Another factor that can help you achieve the perfect balance between text and screenshots in technical writing is the medium where you plan to publish your content.

Docs

Printed manuals, for example, tend to use more text as compared to visuals. The gesture of flipping through pages makes it easier for people to scan through the text, looking for the information that interests them.

When it comes to online help authoring, on the other hand, visuals tend to weigh more than text. Think about it this way: internet users are incredibly impatient. Not to mention, they have short attention spans.

Internet Users

They don’t have the time or the interest to read through dense content to understand how to operate your product or software. They want the information in the software documentation delivered in small bite-sizes and as easy to comprehend as possible. Relevant screenshots can help you achieve just that.

Striking the Perfect Ratio

While no one can deny the power of visual content, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the written word has become obsolete. Let your goals and your audience’s expectations set the best approach. If words are unnecessary, don’t use them. Similarly, if you can’t describe something better with screenshots in a user manual, then do so.

Good Luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Online Documentation & Technical Writing Tools

 

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