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Demo data in screenshots! What are the best practice?

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My question is related to best practices of making screenshots for end-user documentation. Particularly, is there universal information for filling in forms in the software and after that making screenshots.

I mean demo data, such as Name, Company Name, City, IP-address, Links, URL, Site, Username Password.

Are there any conventions that help avoid using the existing names and real infomation?

Thanks in advance!

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/8185. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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6 answers

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You can use Sherlock Holmes, since he is a public domain fictional character and he has a famous fictional address. I think this adds a little fun but not so much that it is distracting, and it feels more like a real person than “John Smith, 123 Main Street.”

Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street
London, England
NW1 6XE

Of course you can localize it also if necessary:

Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street
New York, NY 10001

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/20820. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Take great care when you opt to use a single generic name (or even a limited set). What is the message you are sending to Trang, Luigi and Antwan when every reference to a given name uses John or Richard?

Are you certain that your target audience is so ethnically homogeneous that they will all identify with Dick and Jane from Picket Fence Lane in Smalltown?

Even technical writing has the capacity to say to readers "This product is not for you." and you are not being paid to drive potential customers away.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/8194. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Some writers use these situations as an opportunity to embed small "Easter eggs," targeting your audience. For example, if your audience is in the UK and "geeky," Doctor Who references could work. In Australia, Mad Max references could work.

This solution is not for everyone, but my usual developer audiences appreciate them, so long as they're subtle.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/8188. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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My previous company faced this issue in many situations. They handled it in several ways:

  • The company registered a domain name, so that we could use it as an example domain in URLs.
  • For names, we used characters from famous works of fiction. My favorite was Elizabeth Bennett. I also used famous authors, like Emily Dickinson.
  • For addresses, I used the street address of public buildings. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC is always a good one.
  • If you preface a telephone number with 800-555, you can't go wrong.

Everything else is up to you. I don't think that you have to be depressingly serious with this type of data.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/11044. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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I mostly agree with Lauren Ipsum, just a couple of extra thoughts:

As Lauren says, John Doe and Jane Doe are widely recognized as fake names.

John Q Customer is often used for a fake customer name.

For US telephone numbers, use "555" for the exchange, like "123-555-1234". "555" is reserved by the phone companies just for use in examples and in books and movies. The other digits then don't matter: you can use a real area code or not.

Lauren mentioned using "example.com" for websites. This is also reserved specifically for examples, so you can be sure there will never be a real site with this name, and it's pretty obvious that it's an example.

I don't think there are any widely-recognized fake addresses. I generally use addresses that sound obviously fake, like "123 Some Street, Anytown PA 12345"

Definitely do not use any real person's information. Years ago I worked for a company that made a software package for doctors' offices, and at one point our chief marketing guy was going to some convention and he dropped by and casually asked me for a copy of a real customer's database that he could bring to the convention to use when giving demos of the product. I went through the roof. You want to use real people's private medical records for a demo at a convention?! I'm sure there are laws against that. Even if it was information not protected by law, you could set yourself up to be sued, or at the very least alienate customers with your lack of respect for privacy.

** Very late addendum **

The Social Security administration says that they will never assign numbers beginning 000, 666, or 900-999. So 000-00-0000 is good for examples and pretty obviously fake.

All the above said, note that people can be amazingly stupid and take examples for real. See http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/misused.html

If you use a real person's phone number, address, or social security number, there will be some number of people who will decide to call that phone number or try to use that social security number, and cause the real person all sorts of problems. If you make up a number at random, it is possible that it will by coincidence match a real person. Don't. A few years back I read that some developer was testing a system that sent automated emails, and so for test data he entered an email address by just mashing the keyboard. I forget what he said he came up with, but some totally random-looking, meaningless collection of letters.. Then he stuck "[email protected]" on the front and ".com" on the end. As there was no real organization with that email address, these emails were all returned and he used the error messages to verify that the correct emails had been sent. I'm sure you can guess where this is going. The test data was never deleted from the system, and a couple of years later a real company came along whose acronym just happened to match his random collection of letters. And they immediately started getting thousands of junk emails a day, and they were very unhappy.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/8187. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Assuming native speakers of American English:

For first names:

  • John
  • Jack
  • Mary
  • Jane

For last names:

  • Doe
  • Smith
  • Jones
  • Johnson

Full names:

  • John Doe is native English shorthand for "generic person."
  • Richard Roe is native English legal shorthand for "second generic person in the same document as John Doe." ["Jane Roe" (an anonymous woman at the time) is the Roe in Roe v. Wade.]
  • John Q. Public is another recognizable "generic person." Use any first name there.

For company names, I like using Widget for products in conjunction with Co., Company, Corp., Inc., etc. (So House of Widgets, Widgets Inc.) A "widget" is a generic term for "made object or product."

For non-product names, Acme is reasonably generic. (Acme Incorporated) You can also combine some of the other generic terms: SmithCo, Jones & Sons, Acme Widgets.

For addresses:

  • 123 Main Street
  • Anytown, ST 12345 (ST is standing in for the two-letter state abbreviation)

For websites, I'd just use www.example.com

For username and password, just put in username and password. You actually want to be straightforward with those fields, not coy and anonymous.

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