Software Documentation: 5 Easy Ways to Make it Better

When most people think of software user documentation, they probably don’t imagine anything exciting, engaging, or fun. That’s because too many software user guides, quick-start guides, tutorials, and the like are dominated by large blocks of text with little thought given to what the end user will get out of them.

There’s a better way.

The best user documentation doesn’t tell your customers how to use your software in huge, difficult-to-digest portions. It shows them how with visuals and video in bite-sized chunks that clearly outline in simple terms exactly how to accomplish the tasks that will help them be successful.

And, best of all, it’s WAY easier than you think. I’m going to show you five simple ways you can improve your software documentation with visuals and video that will delight your customers while helping them be more successful with your products.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

The Best Tool for Creating Engaging Software Documentation

Snagit makes it easy to quickly create powerful screenshots and screen recordings to help your users learn your software!

Download a Free Trial of Snagit

Why visual software documentation is better

When we did our research The Value of Visuals, we expected to discover that people learned better when presented with visual content vs. text alone. But what we didn’t expect was to what degree visual content made a difference. 

Not only do nearly 70% of people prefer visual instructions vs. text-only, they also learned faster, performed tasks more accurately, and retained the information longer. It was pretty mind-blowing, to be honest. 

And, our most recent Video Viewer Study analysis found that, more and more, people are looking for help or how-to content via video rather than a crusty old PDF or text-heavy webpage. 

The bottom line is that people don’t just prefer visuals and videos (they do!), they also get more out of them. 

That means you’ll have happier, more successful customers and reduce calls, emails, and other inquiries to your tech support staff.

How to improve software documentation with visuals and video

So visuals and video are a key component of any good software documentation strategy, but it can also be intimidating to think about creating that type of content, especially if you have little or no experience.

It doesn’t have to be. It can be incredibly easy to create high-quality visuals and videos — even if you’ve never created them before.

Here are five easy ways to improve your software documentation with visuals.

1. Use screenshots

Screenshot of the Camtasia user interface with annotations showing the locations of the record button, the timeline, and the tool properties.

Screenshots are one of the simplest ways to add images of your software’s user interface to your documentation. 

Even a plain screenshot can be a huge help to your users as they try to navigate your software or website, but when enhanced with annotations and callouts, they become an essential and easy-to-understand tool.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a good screenshot must be worth 10,000.

While there are free screenshot tools available, a more powerful and versatile option like TechSmith Snagit makes creating high-quality images even easier. You can show as much or as little of the screen as you need to and Snagit’s easy callouts and annotations mean you can highlight important elements or call your users’ attention to what’s most vital. 

A series of screenshots can show the steps to complete a task, or Snagit’s step tool can show it all in one image. 

Learn how to create effective screenshots

2. Use simplified graphics

Software file menu with most of the options removed via simplified graphics to show the Connect Mobile Device option.

A lot of software interfaces can be complicated, offering a number of options. And, most of the time when you want to show a process or a how-to, you don’t need to show the whole thing. In fact, sometimes showing the whole interface can be confusing.

Simplified graphics help de-emphasize the unimportant parts of your screenshot and highlight what your users need to see.

With Snagit, it’s never been easier to create simplified graphics. Just choose the Simplify tool and, with Auto-Simplify selected, Snagit does the rest. You can choose how much detail you want Snagit to show and remove any simplifications you don’t need. 

For more precise control, you can also choose to apply simplification manually. 

However you do it, simplified graphics will help your users understand exactly where they should focus their attention. 

3. Turn your screenshots into a video

While images are a powerful and useful way to improve your software documentation, videos can take it even further by adding motion and voice instructions to the mix. 

Now, if you’ve never made a video before, the thought of getting started can be incredibly daunting. But you can create highly effective videos with little or no video experience at all. In fact, if you can take a screenshot, you’re well on your way!

Once again, it’s Snagit to the rescue. Snagit allows you to take a series of screenshots and turn them into a quick video that you can share as part of your software documentation, help content, and more. In fact, it’s a great way for your tech support team to show users how to fix an issue, as well.

You can grab your screenshots and then make your video or get your screenshots using Snagit’s Video from Images function. However you do it, you can add audio and annotations as you go.

4. Record a video

Screenshots are great and useful in more ways than I can count. But, sometimes nothing but video will do. 

Unlike a video from images, a screen recording takes video of your screen and any mouse movements, clicks, etc. you perform. 

Snagit’s built-in screen recorder allows you to capture all or part of your screen, as well as any voiceover you want to include. For some extra personality, you can add your camera, as well. 

Sometimes that personal touch goes a long way in helping your users feel less stressed about learning your software.

Remember, though, that the best videos are as short as possible to show what you want to teach. Don’t try to show how to use every feature in a single video. 

5. Think beyond PDFs

Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) has transformed the way we share information. They’re perfect for when you want someone to be able to download and print a perfectly formatted copy of your documentation.

But let’s face it, when was the last time you downloaded and printed software documentation?

One of the best things about the web is that we can share information without the need to print it. Keep your software documentation on pages on your website rather than just forcing users to access a PDF. You’ll have way more options (including being able to include videos) and, for the most part, web pages are way easier to update than PDF documents, ensuring that your users always have the most up-to-date information. 

And, unlike PDFs, your web pages are highly searchable, meaning when one of your users wants information about your product, they’re more likely to find your content.

You can always offer a PDF in addition to the web content, but just don’t make PDFs the ONLY way people can get your software documentation.

And hey, don’t forget you can put your videos on sites like YouTube, too! 

Better software documentation = happier users

You can keep creating text-heavy software documentation and forcing your customers to wade through it, or you can give them what they want AND what actually helps them use your products faster and more efficiently. 

Add more visuals and video to your documentation and you’ll provide better service to your customers. 

The Best Tool for Creating Engaging Software Documentation

Snagit makes it easy to quickly create powerful screenshots and screen recordings to help your users learn your software!

Download a Free Trial of Snagit

And, with Snagit, literally anyone can create incredibly professional-looking visuals and videos that will delight your customers, reduce calls and emails to tech support, and help create users for life.

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist and manager of the TechSmith Blog. More than 25 years of communications and marketing experience. Geek. Science and sci-fi enthusiast. Guitar player. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me: 1) Mildly (or not-so-mildly) obsessed with the movie Alien, 2) two rescue pibbles (Biggie and Reo), and 3) friend of ducks everywhere. Ask me about my seven+ years as a roller derby coach.

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