Creating a screencast

A conversation earlier this week made me decide that it was time to pick up a project I’d been meaning to play with for a while – creating a screencast. And since I’m doing that, why not talk about the process.

Below, you’ll find my step-by-step how I went through this, and what I learned.

Step 1: Find a topic

This is actually why I’d been putting off playing with this, since it’s very hard to do good instruction (including screencasts) without an idea of the intended audience and your goals.

But I had a brainstorm.

I’ve been a user of Dreamwidth, a social journaling site, since it was created, and I’ve known one of the co-founders, Denise, since she was my manager when I volunteered for the Terms of Service team back in 2003-2004.

So, off went an email saying “Hey, is there anything you could use a screencast of?”

She went off and checked with other volunteers, and came back with a list of topics. The one I’m going to talk about here is creating filters for reading pages, but I’m interested in working on several other suggestions as well (including an introduction to the site for people not familiar with this kind of site structure.)

Step 2: Decide on a tool

As you probably know, there are a wide variety of screencasting tools out there, some free, some inexpensive, some more expensive. Since my goal is to play with the technology, I’d like to keep the costs down, so Jing looked really good (there’s both a free version, and a $14.95 yearly subscription version, and I’ve heard good things about it from various people.) The paid version allows you to upload to YouTube (rather than just Jing’s own servers), remove branding, and some other useful things.

Uploading to YouTube is important, because of their built-in captioning tools. Dreamwidth has a very strong commitment to accessibility and diversity of use, and so they really want to have all material available in as many accessible formats as possible. That means that any audio instructions (like a screencast) really need to have captioning or a transcript, or both.

Both Jing versions have a 5 minute limit, but for my purposes, that isn’t a problem.

Step 3: Review some tips and ideas

Before I started playing with any recordings, I wanted to take some time to look at hints and advice about screencasting. Most of it I already knew from other instructional design planning (have a clear idea what you’re planning to do, close out other programs and tools, and to make use of editing to have clean, clear process.)

One strong tip is to use a USB microphone for recording – this is one I’m not going to worry about for this trial run (I’ve had generally good results recording from my MacBook microphone in a quiet place, like home) but I’d want to fix this before doing a series of screencasts for a long-term project, as the built-in microphone will pick up fan humming.

Step 4: Take a look at some of the software tutorials

I am one of those people who believes that reading the instructions can save a lot of time and frustration later, so while I don’t usually go through all the tutorials for new programs, I do usually skim through them, get a feel for what’s going on, and what other help is available.

One useful tip is how to use the ctrl and shift keys to limit the size of the capture rectangle to standard video sizes (ctrl will limit to a 4:3 ratio and shift to 16:9 one – 16:9 is a better format worked better for YouTube)

Also, I love looking at how other people choose to share information, so looking at instructions, how-to videos, and so on is fun on that side, too.

Step 5: Review the content I want to share

I’m starting with a tool I’m fairly familiar with, so I don’t need to learn how to do it from scratch. However, it’s obviously a good idea to take a look at the relevant help files, and to double check how things work.

The most relevant one is this FAQ: “How do I filter my reading page

Step 6: What do I want to say?

After thinking about this for a little, here’s what I want to cover:

  • What is a reading filter? Why might you want one?
  • Getting to the filter settings page
  • Creating a new filter group (and tips on name format)
  • Adding someone to a filter group
  • Useful tools (sorting the list by communities, journals, feeds)
  • Default filter
  • Additional tools for paid accounts
  • ?show=type tool

Most of these will be brief. I want to start from the profile page (to show how to get to the settings), make some simple changes to create a new filter, mention some other tools, and then show the reading page and how to select a filter.

Right. Time for a trial run. Or several, as I play with different settings. (Plus a certain amount of waiting for the cat to stop making noises that will not be helpful.) Doing several trials also helps me figure out how to cut down the time a bit, and cover material more efficiently.

(In some cases, I might try scripting word for word: in this case, I chose to work from a set of bullet points.)

Step 7: Review

Once I’ve gotten a version I’m reasonably happy with, I want to let various other people take a look at it, in case any changes are needed or wanted. (Also, I believe it’s good to sit on these things overnight or so, because sometimes I have the best ideas on how to improve when I sleep on something.)

Once I’ve gotten feedback on it, I’ll do the transcription and some other final changes, and it can go and help people out. I’ve got some thoughts about how to approach some additional screencasts that were suggested (one of which has a much more complicated narrative).


Overall, I’m really impressed with what an inexpensive tool can do. I do want to play with a couple of other software packages using trial downloads, but this is largely readable, and great for shorter, quick guides. While you can hear the fan hum of my computer in the background (the main reason to use a USB microphone), it’s not horrible. Certainly, if I were doing a long string of screencasts, I’d look at investing in some better tools, but for quick guides, this is wonderful.

In terms of time, it took me about an hour to explore the software, an hour or so to figure out how I wanted to frame the content (and do a few trial runs for length and smoothness) and then about an hour to produce a more polished product. And then a bit of time to upload, etc. I did a couple of trials of that, to see how different settings/ratios worked. Obviously, more time would be needed for a more complex topic.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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