Improve Knowledge Base Support With Screenshots

November 3, 2010

Useful knowledge base support is a key help desk software tool in decreasing customer requests and tickets. I know that in our company, our knowledge base support deflects the vast majority of our customer requests, keeping our queues low and our support load manageable. But if you have worked with knowledge bases at all you know that simply having one isn’t enough. It has to have clear, correct, easy to consume content or your customers will just skip it all together.

For knowledge base support to be effective it needs to accomplish three goals:

  1. It should save your organization time/money
  2. It should provide consistent/accurate information to your customers and support staff
  3. It should help your customers be thrilled with your product or service

Adding screenshots to your articles is a simple way of improving the effectiveness of your knowledge base. Screenshots in knowledge base articles increase clarity. Clarity decreases support requests. Decreased support requests saves everyone time and money.

Look at the example below. It is the same article on both sides. One has images, one doesn’t. Which would you rather read?

But adding a picture here and there isn’t enough. You need to make sure that you are using screenshots effectively or you will just end up wasting your time. They key is to establish a simple and repeatable system for adding and updating images to your knowledge base. Follow these three tips to make sure that you are getting the most out of your efforts:

1. Don’t skimp

If your knowledge base article only has a single image in it then you are probably skimping. I see a lot of documentation that has a single screen capture with a bullet list of instructions underneath it.That isn’t going to get it done. You might as well leave the first screenshot out. It isn’t helping your users enough to be worth it. Spend an extra 5 minutes and add more images to increase the clarity of the article.

A good way to tell when you need more images is when you have a list of sequential instructions (step 1, step 2, etc.). Each item in the list should have an accompanying image or screenshot.

Here here are some examples instructions:

To set up your desktop software to upload to Zendesk:

  1. Select Account Preferences
  2. Click new account
  3. Enter your account information
  4. Click Test Connection

2. Get the size right

When working with screenshots it is important to get the size right. The screenshot should provide enough information to create context without being so large that it becomes difficult to focus on what is important.

Let’s look at an example. We want to show a customer where the Copy to Clipboard button can be found in ScreenSteps. What size screen capture should we use?

Too large

In this example we have a screenshot of the entire screen. But all we are interested in is the upper left-hand corner. There is a lot of wasted space in this graphic that should be cropped out.

Too small

This is example is too small.

This one is more common and even worse.

The problem with these graphics is that they don’t provide any context. Screenshots like these force your users to play “Where’s Waldo” with your software. Believe me, it isn’t a game they will want to play.

Just right

This example gets it just right. There is enough context in the screenshot to let the user know where to look, but not so much extra information that the user can’t figure out what is most important.

Here is the final image we would use:

3. Have a plan for updating your images

The UI of your product is going to change. That is inevitable. When the UI changes the screenshots must change. If you don’t have a plan in place to deal with this reality you will quickly become frustrated.

If you are using ScreenSteps to create your knowledge base then all of your images will be stored in your original articles. You can simply recapture images right in place and post the updated article to Zendesk.

If you aren’t using ScreenSteps then at least make sure that you store all of the images in a single folder. When your UI does change you can quickly see what screenshots need to be captured and re-uploaded to your knowledge base.


Screenshots and images can do a lot more than just make your documentation look better. They can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your knowledge base. If you follow these simple tips you should be able to create clear knowledge base articles that will pay you big dividends in decreased support requests over time.

Greg DeVore is the CEO of Blue Mango Learning Systems, the developers of ScreenSteps Desktop and ScreenSteps Live. ScreenSteps Desktop allows Zendesk users to quickly capture screenshots, annotate images and author knowledge base articles which can be posted directly to Zendesk forums. ScreenSteps Live is a hosted knowledge base solution that can be embedded as a Documentation tab in a Zendesk help desk. Both solutions save hours and hours of time when preparing and updating product documentation and tutorials.