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!

6 Answers 6


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.

  • 4
    +1 This is an example of knowing your audience and medium. Deviating from a formal tone may be inappropriate in some contexts and unfamiliar references may alienate readers, but in the proper circumstances combining entertainment with education can increase attention and retention of information. Subtle references tend to avoid alienation, increase the value to the readers (pleasure in discovery), encourage careful and repeated reading (good for learning), and encourage discussion of the documentation (marketing and reinforcement of education).
    – user5232
    Jun 18, 2013 at 17:19
  • @PaulA.Clayton "Know your audience." Exactly. When I was working at a firm of 40+ people who all knew me, I could set up a business card template with James T. Kirk as the generic person, because everyone knew not to print that. But I couldn't send that out to the client. (On the other hand, we did have someone come in to do a software demo, and the pre-made presentation used a photo of Harry and Tom from Star Trek: Voyager. The presenter didn't know who the characters were, so I had to explain my hysterical giggles to him.) Jun 18, 2013 at 19:35
  • As long as there's nothing inherently offensive about the reference, those who recognize it may be amused and those who don't recognize it will just see it as a random name or whatever. Like, I was just working on some internal software for my company and I had to create a fake employee record. As no one had ever seen this employee, I named him "Griffin", the name of the invisible man in the H. G. Wells story. If anyone recognizes the allusion, they may get a moment of amusement. If they don't, it will just sound like a random fake name.
    – Jay
    Jun 19, 2013 at 13:37
  • ... But I wouldn't use the name of a character from a pornographic movie or use the name of a religious figure in a way that could be seen as belittling him or her.
    – Jay
    Jun 19, 2013 at 13:39
  • 1
    @Jay - if there was anybody not wielding a sword and slaying dragons worthy of being called sir, it's the guy who discovered gravity. At least that's what I'd tell the client.
    – Anthony
    Nov 19, 2014 at 19:11

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.

  • 1
    Normally, I see for websites www.mysite.com Jun 18, 2013 at 12:31
  • 4
    example.com is good to use because it is the "official" example website -- the name is reserved just to be used for examples in documentation etc. It's like putting 555 on a phone number.
    – Jay
    Jun 18, 2013 at 12:38
  • 4
    If Acme is good enough for Wile E. Coyote, it should be good enough for anyone. :-)
    – user5232
    Jun 18, 2013 at 16:23
  • 1
    @PraveshParekh eh, the section about the example IP addresses is interesting, but I think a bit specialized. And if you're clever enough to come up with fun fictional names like Dewey Cheatham & Howe, you hardly need my examples above. May 29, 2014 at 22:10
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    www.widgetco.com may sound generic, but we are a living, breathing entity Just thought we would mention it.
    – user16780
    Feb 4, 2016 at 17:10

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.

  • 1
    I don't want to get into a debate on social issues, but: I wonder how much of an issue this really is. Like, a certain car insurance company has been running a lot of TV commercials lately with a spokesman who happens to be black. It never once occurred to me that that means that this is car insurance for black people and thus not for me. I never thought about it until I read this post and started trying to think of advertisements that had people of different ethnic backgrounds than myself. ...
    – Jay
    Jun 19, 2013 at 13:28
  • ... I can't imagine even noticing that the names in examples are of Italian and Spanish origin and not Scandinavian like me. Maybe people who are members of minority groups are more sensitive about things like this. (Well, I'm sure Scandinavian-Americans are a minority group, but I've never particularly thought of myself as a member of such a group.) The one thing I could see is that I might think a product, especially a personal care product or a medical product, might be intended for women and thus not for me.
    – Jay
    Jun 19, 2013 at 13:31
  • +1 That is a valid concern. However, deviation from tradition can be disturbing--jarring or even mildly threatening--to some members of the potential audience. If moving away from the (locale-specific) traditional names (like "John Doe" in the U.S.), some broadly-accessible playfulness might ease discomfort and correlation with the context (similar to using "Eve" for eavesdropper in networking) could make an unusual name seem more justified. By the way, great edit on the recent terminology question; thank you very much.
    – user5232
    Jun 19, 2013 at 13:33
  • 1
    A core component of white privilege is the freedom to not have to think about white privilege. Being able to assume that "white" names are universal, and finding it strange that other populations might prefer to be represented in all areas of life, including documentation and advertising, is a perfect example of the phenomenon. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege Apr 14, 2018 at 21:37

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.


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 "webmaster@" 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.

  • 1
    For IP addresses and domain names you should reference the RFCs: 5737 for IPv4, 3849 for IPv6 prefix, 2606 for domain names.
    – user5232
    Jun 18, 2013 at 16:18
  • 1
    For demo physical address, I always use the one on my drivers license : 1060 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613
    – Anthony
    Nov 19, 2014 at 8:03
  • the US Social Security office will consider a number in circulation as voided if it becomes too familiar to the general public (like if you rented an hour on a time square feed just flashing your ssid and face. They'd recall it. Apparently the first example case was some spokesperson for the SSID always recited his # to demonstrate how they should keep the data personal, etc. Long story short, protect your ID, but also be at aware that some person you are using as dummy that has legal limitations on excessive exposure
    – Anthony
    Nov 19, 2014 at 8:31

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

Of course you can localize it also if necessary:

Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street
New York, NY 10001

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