Clarify: Screenshots and Manuals Made Easy

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Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Often when I am helping a friend, colleague, or student with a computer or online issue, it is far easier to send a screenshot (or even a few) to help walk them through the steps necessary to resolve the issue. If all I need is a quick screenshot with some annotation, I usually rely on Skitch. Skitch works fine for single screenshots, but is not as helpful when multiple shots are required. In such cases I would normally create a screencast using Screenflow and then email the video, or post it online.

In many cases a video is not exactly the ideal solution. There is the problem of keeping the quality of the video high enough to be useful, but the size small enough to email. If I choose to post the video, then there is the hassle of uploading, waiting for conversion, and then finally emailing a link to the intended recipient. It is also the case that sometimes a screencast is overkill. What I really want is to take a series of screenshots, and quickly add some text and annotation. While there are several ways to do this with screenshots combined with Pages or Nisus, one of the easiest is with Clarify

Overview

Clarify is a screen capture application that allows you to create professional looking instructional documents or manuals. It combines the functionality of screen-capture (with annotation), along with a basic text editor. The end result is a PDF, or an HTML web-ready document .

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Tools

Clarify offers a limited but sufficient set of image annotation tools. You can create shapes, arrows, add text and even blur out parts of your image. One nice additional feature is the “Sequence Annotation”. This feature allow you to add a numbered sequence to an image. Once this is done, you can have Clarify uses those numbered annotations to create a numbered list in the text field.

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In addition to annotations, you can also perform basic text editing and incorporate hyperlinks within your document. You can also incorporate HTML code into your document. This allows you to incorporate audio and video into the online version of your manual.*

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Export

The one limiting aspects of Clarify is the number of export options. Once you have completed you manual, you have the option of exporting it as a PDF or converting it to an HTML. The latter option requires that you use the Clarify-It web service. You can sign up for a free or pro account. The pro account is currently running $10 a month. Regardless of which you choose, when you export to Clarify-It your manual is converted to HTML which can then be copied to the clipboard. Clarify does let you export to Dropbox as well, so you can use your public folder as a mini manual-web site. If there is one drawback to Clarify it is this less than ideal method of non-native HTML export.

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Conclusion

I have been using Clarify for the last couple of months and find it extremely helpful when doing software reviews, and providing students with step-by-step instructions in online courses. I have also found it helpful when giving purchasing recommendations to colleagues in my department. With a few clicks I can capture images from a web site, add annotation, and quickly export the information as a PDF. Clarify is the easiest way I have found to take, organize, and annotate multiple screenshots or images.

[Clarify: Bluemango Learning Systems Mac/Windows $29.99 (no education discount)]

[*Correction: Clarify does not allow you to embed HTML code. This is a feature reserved to Bluemango’s ScreenSteps program.]

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