"Just email me a screenshot," I said to the caller when he was struggling to read out an error he'd received. Thinking I'd soon see the error message he was getting, I carried on with other things.

His email arrived and I opened it. And squinted. It didn't help. I made the email fill the screen. It didn't help. I zoomed in. The error message went all pixelated and was unreadable.


PICTURE: Zizzy0104/www.freeimages.com

"Using features built into Windows or MacOS to capture part of your screen, you can make your screenshots a hit with your email recipients, and save their eyesight."

The caller had just pressed the Print Screen key on his keyboard. And because he had a dual monitor setup, it had captured both screens. These took up a lot of space in the email and the error message was tiny as a result.

Thankfully, there are ways around this. Using features built into Windows or MacOS to capture part of your screen, you can make your screenshots a hit with your email recipients, and save their eyesight.

Windows has several ways to capture part of a screen. 

• Capture the active application or dialogue box: Press ALT + Print Screen on your keyboard. This will grab just the active window or dialogue box which you can paste into your email or Word document. Perfect for sending errors through to tech support. 

• Windows 7 onwards included the Snipping Tool. This tool allows you to select a portion of your screen to copy. Press New and your screen will go a transparent white. Use your mouse to select the part of your screen you want to grab. The transparent white disappears. Then, in the tool, click on Edit > Copy and then paste it into your email or Word document. You can also highlight or write on your screenshot before you copy it. It’s not limited to taking a screenshot. You can write on your screenshot once it is in the tool. Perfect for when you want to draw attention to something. There’s also a built-in highlighter, eraser and time delay.

• You have another option if you use Microsoft's OneNote (see here for an article about OneNote). OneNote also comes with a screen clipping tool. You can use it to clip straight into OneNote or to the clipboard for the ability to paste it into other applications. The benefit of OneNote's screen clipping is that it's triggered with a hotkey sequence. Just press the Windows key (the flag key between Ctrl and Alt on the left of your keyboard) + Shift + S. Your screen will go transparent white and you use your mouse to select what you'd like to copy. OneNote will ask if you want to place your capture into OneNote or copy it to the clipboard for use in other applications. I always choose clipboard because from there I can still copy it to OneNote if I wish.

Like Windows, Apple's Mac can also capture screenshots. You just need to press the right buttons. 

• To capture the whole screen, press Command + Shift + 3. This will save an image file to your desktop, which can be inserted in emails as attachments.

• To capture a partial area of your screen, press Command + Shift + 4. Your mouse pointer will change to a crosshair and you can click and drag to capture your selection. You can hold down Shift, Option or the Space bar while dragging for different selection options. Once again, this will save a file to your desktop.

• To capture a window, press Command + Shift + 4 and your pointer turns to a crosshair. Press the Spacebar and the crosshair changes to a camera. Drag it over a window and then click. The screenshot of the window can be found on your desktop.

• If you want to copy your full screen capture to the clipboard for pasting into other applications without it being saved to your desktop, then press Command + Control + Shift + 3. Likewise, Command + Control + Shift + 4 will enable you to copy part of the screen you select to the clipboard.

Although these keyboard shortcuts are convenient and fast, they can be a struggle to remember. Master them to be more efficient and to make your screenshots readable.

Given the advances of Windows and MacOS, the clipboard hasn't changed. In both operating systems, the object in the clipboard is replaced whenever you copy something new. This is unproductive if you are copying and pasting the same things all day.

Thankfully, there are utilities called clipboard managers that keep a history of clipboard usage. These allow you to paste previously copied objects and I'll cover some of them in next month's article.