If you’re a member of the IT staff, and especially if you work as a Help desk technician, this conversation will almost certainly sound familiar:

User: I got an error message when I opened the accounting program.

IT Pro: What was the error message?

User: Something about an error.

Sigh. It rarely works to ask a user to repeat the steps that led to the error, then write down the message and call you back. Apparently, most users have a very small window of concentration--they write down the first few words of an error message and think, "That’s enough." Many times, users who manage to write down most (or all) of the text make errors in their notes (of course, the errors usually involve the Error Message Number for which you have documentation), or they tell you they can’t read their handwriting. For users, supplying information about errors to technical personnel falls in the “I Think That’s Close Enough” category of collecting information.

The best way to get a handle on an error message is to see it for yourself. You could travel to the user’s office, but it’s easier to have the user take a picture of the error message and send it to you via email, or print it and bring it to your desk. Here are some easy-to-follow instructions you can deliver to your users.

How to Capture a Picture of the Screen

You can capture a picture of your computer monitor and save or print the picture with a few simple mouse clicks.

1. To capture everything you see on the monitor, press the Print Screen button on your keyboard.

2. To capture a specific open window (such as an Error Message dialog box), click the window’s title bar to make sure it’s the active window, then hold down the Alt key while you press the Print Screen key.

3. When you press Print Screen, Windows doesn't respond and nothing will seem to happen. This is normal, so don't press Print Screen again. You have captured the picture and saved it to the computer’s memory.

4. Now that the picture is saved in memory, open a program that's capable of displaying a graphics file. Most people use Paint (to open Paint, choose Start, Programs, Accessories, Paint) or Microsoft Word.

5. In Paint (or Word), choose Edit, Paste.

6. The picture you captured opens and you can save it or print it.

Note that when you press the Print Screen key, the image is stored in memory via the Windows Clipboard, which will store only one set of data at a time. Therefore, if you need to capture more than one picture, you must go through all the steps to save or print the first graphic before you can capture the next one. In fact, if you use the Copy or Cut feature for anything at all (including text in a document or data on a Web page) after you've captured a screen, the new data will replace the screen capture. It’s also important to know that Windows doesn't save any data placed in the Windows Clipboard, so if you log off or restart the computer before you’ve pasted the data into a program that can display it, you'll lose that data.