How to Display Instructions?
October 31, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have to write several instructions manuals with screenshots. (Step-by-step documentation.) What's the easiest way to do this? Any hacks or software recommendations? I want it to look nice and be easy to make. I don't have access to Photoshop or Illustration; free or very low cost would be ideal.
posted by melodykramer to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
What are you writing your instructions in? If it's Word or PowerPoint, you can just "Insert > Screen Clipping" for your screenshots while writing.
posted by xingcat at 8:54 AM on October 31, 2013

Response by poster: Right -- but if there's something easier and/or prettier, I could install that. Otherwise, I will use Word.
posted by melodykramer at 8:57 AM on October 31, 2013

Gimp is a freeware product that allows you to edit images.
posted by xingcat at 8:59 AM on October 31, 2013

You might want to try Publisher as well. That allows you a little more freedom for placement of pictures and text than word does.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:15 AM on October 31, 2013

Scribus is the open source page layout tool, suitable for anything going to print or PDF. Scribus is to InDesign or Publisher as Gimp is to Photoshop, or Inkscape is to Illustrator. Haven't used it personally but I hear its alright. And free!

It's much easier to use actual page layout software once you're going to be adding photos, wrapping text, using captions, etc. It'll be possible to make Word do what you want, but it'll be a major headache.
posted by echo target at 9:18 AM on October 31, 2013

At my job we've used Snagit before in conjunction with Word/PowerPoint, and it's both simpler than inserting screen clippings, and seems to look nicer without any fussing around. I think a license costs about $50, but there's a free 30-day version if you want to give it a look.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:32 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do a lot of (usually short-ish) step-by-step guides for work and we use Snagit for screenshots. I like it.
posted by ghharr at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013

I've used Jing in the past to take screenshots and annotate them for instruction manuals. I'd recommend using something like Jing or Snagit over Gimp- while powerful, you'll spend more time fussing with Gimp than just getting your annotations done.
posted by jmd82 at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

My recommendation, as someone who has written more than a few such documents (for documenting custom web-based software) = Word + SnagIt (best paid app I've used) or Screenpresso (best free app I've used).

One note of caution if you do use Word: I recommend against inserting 'Shapes' in Word (for example to circle something), because for some ungodly reason you cannot group shapes and pasted screenshots (in Word 2007, unless you create a drawing canvas for each screenshot...yuck). Thus, if you insert Shapes, as you compose your document the shapes will move around, forcing you to rejigger everything frequently.

The downside to that is that if you mess up a modification in a screenshot, you'll need to redo it from scratch. Depending on your process, it can be helpful to save a folder with the "unmodified" screenshots so you can redo any markup. But it's usually easier to just re-screenshot and redo everything rather than keep track, unless the sequence to redo the screenshot is sufficiently complex.

Another tip (if using Word on a PC): the shortcut Ctrl + Alt + V will allow you to Paste Special quickly without using the mouse. I typically paste my screenshots as bitmaps as they look best that way (otherwise, they can look blurry), but YMMV. If someone is going to print your instructions, do a test print early on to see your pasted images are looking in hard copy.

Good luck!
posted by xiaolongbao at 9:53 AM on October 31, 2013

You might be surprised by what Word is capable of... And believe me I am not a Word aficionado by any means.

His website is

I have no affiliation to the author, I just think that it is creative.
posted by gregjunior at 10:01 AM on October 31, 2013

I do a LOT of screenshots, and Greenshot is a gem for screen captures. And free! I do the rest of my documentation in Word or Publisher, unfortunately, but really, can't say enough about Greenshot.
posted by nkknkk at 10:18 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you've got Word and Publisher, you presumably also have OneNote, which is part of Office, and can take great screenshots when you press the Windows key plus S, where you get to select the area to screenshot, plus, possibly useful in this case, you can copy the text within the screenshot, if for some reason that's not available to a straightforward copy and paste (saved my life yesterday with a crashed copy of Excel).
posted by ambrosen at 5:31 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is stupid obvious, but when you do this, use a two column table and put the instructions on the left and the screenshots on the right. Don't write instructions across the page and then follow them with a bunch of out-of-context screenshots down the rest of the page.

And as others have mentioned, Snagit is going to save a ton of time in taking and marking up screenshots.
posted by cnc at 5:33 PM on October 31, 2013

Greenshot is a Good Thing.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 PM on October 31, 2013

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