I’m sure this won’t be breaking news to you: English is the main language of technical documentation around the world. 

According to the Ethnologue, English is the most widely spoken language with just under 1.3 billion speakers worldwide. However, more than two thirds of those do not consider English to be their mother tongue.

Maybe you’re a non-native speaker yourself, or maybe you’ve been tasked with writing technical documentation for an audience whose first language is not English. In any case, with that information in mind, you might be wondering how you can ensure that your documentation is clear and easy to understand. Because as a technical writer, your goal is to write documentation that guarantees the safe and satisfactory use of a product. English can be ambiguous to native speakers, let alone non-native speakers, and technical communication should never be confusing, as this could lead to property damage or personal injury.

In this article, you’ll learn why implementing Simplified Technical English will help you reach this goal and more.

What is Simplified Technical English?

Simplified Technical English (STE) is a “controlled language”. To put it simply, a controlled language is a language which has restrictive rules to simplify the structure of the text to make it easier for the reader to understand.

STE uses a combination of writing rules, a dictionary of controlled vocabulary, and company-specific technical words.

There are many controlled languages already in use in the technical communication field, including ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English, Attempto Controlled English, and Basic English.

Here are some of the main writing rules from ASD-STE100:

  • Use consistent vocabulary and terminology. One word = one meaning. For example, “to fall” is defined as  “to move down by the force of gravity”, not “to decrease”.
  • Do not use long or complex sentences.
  • When there is a choice between American English and British English words and spelling, use the American version (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).

Comprehensibility and Simplified Technical English

There are many common misconceptions about Simplified Technical English, but the reality is that there are a huge number of advantages to using it in your documentation:

Standardization

There are approximately 170,000 words in the English language. If not used in a clear and consistent way in technical documentation, this may be a source of confusion and frustration, which may then lead to a dangerous use of a product. To remedy this, the STE dictionary only includes around 900 words, accompanied by a set of around 65 grammar rules.

Considerably reducing the number of words that can be used in a document will result in a standardized way of writing that will ensure consistency by facilitating terminology and content management and simplifying the post-editing process. This will ultimately result in overall better quality and better comprehensibility.  

Time and cost savings

If you have a localization program and you’re working with language vendors, STE also has advantages to offer. The decreased word count will result in lower translation costs, especially if you’re using terminology management tools or CAT tools. Using a controlled language such as Simplified Technical English will also enable you to ask your language vendor for machine translation, thus reducing translation costs even further. Technical documents are very well suited to the use of STE and machine translation.

You will also be more efficient when writing documentation because it will be easier for you to reuse and recycle texts that you have already written. 

STE rules will help you create technical documentation that is easier to understand for both the end user and the translator. 

As you can see, implementing STE in your technical documentation will help increase not only the comprehensibility of the text, but also the efficiency of your technical communication team.

This is why we would recommend organizing STE training for you and your team of technical writers.

You could become a certified Professional Technical Writer by enrolling in our partner training course at tekom, or join us on our TCLoc master’s program to become an expert in technical communication and localization.

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Why are simplified writing techniques important? Well, a good argument always starts with strong sentences, right? And all strong sentences start with simplicity. If we don’t begin with clear content, our message -no matter how clever, compelling, or creative it is- can get lost in translation to our audience. So, let’s see how we can use simplified writing techniques to improve on our marketing content!

Less is more in the world of writing content

When we stroll through the digital landscape, we see messages everywhere. Be they emails, news feeds, or anything in between, wherever there is marketing content, some stories naturally stand out. They might have clever titles, cover the most compelling issues, or offer an unconventional approach. 

But when we follow captivating marketing content, we aren’t just reading the subject matter. Winning blog posts, news articles, and even social media posts rely on more than just stories themselves. They will only be effective when supported by a strong structure.

Simplified writing is the foundation for strong stories. In fact, an entire industry has even been developed with the goal of using simplified English in business, technical, and legal writing. Clear language, logical sentences, and concise word choices make marketing content easier to understand, easier to stand out, and easier to spread globally.

Start with simplicity

As technology becomes more sophisticated and more integrated into every corner of our lives, we need clear language to break down complex concepts. We don’t want to produce such dense text that even industry experts would struggle to read through it. While there are different ways to measure content readability, we can always rely on straightforward and simple words to ease our readers’ understanding of what we write.

To clear the way for coherent marketing content, we should replace heavy jargon with easy, everyday language and break down long phrases into simple, solid statements:

  • Instead of confusing your audience, why not illuminate them?
  • Instead of bamboozling your readers with sophisticated expressions, why not keep it easy and type the way you talk?
  • If the majority of writers produce less complicated material, won’t the message be clearer?

When content is clear and readers can more easily understand the information, our writing will have more impact.

Stand-out sentences

Marketing messages exist in all shapes and sizes. As personal computers become more portable, tablets take on new technology, and cellphones shrink to pocket-size, people now consume content faster than ever. We have a small window of opportunity to keep consumers engaged and we need writing content that is easy to digest quickly.

In addition to simplifying our vocabulary choice, we can also simplify our sentences:

  • Structure your sentences in an active voice: It has been shown that a passive voice is harder to read. Moreover, studies show that an active voice will put you at ease.
  • Keep listed content in consistent formats: When information is not consistently organized and balanced, the reader will stumble and take longer to process the message. We write clearly so that readers can more easily understand, connect with, and share our stories.
  • Flip negative phrases into their shorter, more positive counterparts: While this is not of huge significance, it might be more important than you think.

As we are often one swipe away from losing our audience, we need clear and simple sentences to stand out in this information overload. 

Spread the “words

How to simplify our writing techniques to improve our Content Marketing ?

As our products go global, so do our messages. And as our readers become more international, so must our writing. While there are several tried and true techniques for localizing content, simplifying our writing is one easy shortcut to success. 

We’ve already learned how to adopt easier language and sentence structures. To broaden our reach, we can also eliminate some words altogether.

We can simplify our writing by taking out words that don’t add value:

  • Eliminate unnecessary adverbs. Do we really, truly, essentially need them?
  • Reduce the noise. Let’s ask the question “Is it possible to explain the same thing in a simpler and shorter way?”
  • Don’t state the obvious. Do you think, believe, and feel that you must state what you imagine, suppose, and feel to be true?

A smaller wordcount is more accessible to non-English natives: fewer words translate into fewer translations. You see, as we adapt our marketing content to audiences around the world, we can go further and say more with less.

Was this article helpful? Do you think you will use simplified writing techniques more when writing your marketing content? Let us know in the comments below!

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For companies, Simplified Technical English (STE) offers many advantages. In her blog “Credible and Concise – Simplified Technical English” Shumin Chen mentions the key words “safety, efficiency, and readability”. She argues that by applying the STE, standard stylistic consistency and comprehensibility of technical texts are increasing. What’s more, translation may benefit from standardisation, because its application ensures an immense reduction in translation costs and better translation quality.

Based on Shumin Chen’s contribution, this article discusses the automatic checking of Simplified Technical English.

Possibilities and limitations 

Essentially, nearly all STE rules which refer to text generation can be checked automatically. However, there are some restrictions to automatic checking due to the inherent challenges within the natural language processing system.

Approved meanings

By means of part-of-speech and semantic restrictions, STE determines the meaning of an approved word. This means that it defines which reading of an ambiguous word is considered the approved reading. A language checking tool may reliably identify approved words in a text, however, it may not decide which is the intended meaning of a word and resolve existing ambiguities.

Approved word forms

A linguistically based text checking tool analyzes words by identifying the smallest grammatically relevant units of a language, called morphemes. By means of a morphological analysis, the part-of-speech of a given wordform can be identified. If only one grammatical category is approved for a given word, the software can prompt this to the author in case of error.

Structural dependencies

Some of the STE rules refer to specific types of information like procedures or warnings. These types of information are most often characterized by typed element information, e.g. by means of XML tagging. The checking tool then takes into account the mark-up information during the proofing process and is thus able to check these structure-related rules. Therefore structuring the input text is a prerequisite, according to XML or style sheets like in Microsoft Word for example.

Rules above sentence level

Automatic rule checking has its limitations when above sentence level phenomena are checked.

An STE rule, for instance, allows only six sentences per paragraph. Currently, this rule cannot be checked by the sentence-based checking tool, since no information is available about the number of sentences at paragraph level.

Another example of a sentence-external rule is the one which recommends connecting sentences that contain related topics by using connecting words, or conjunctive words. The difficulty here is not simply creating adequate sentence structure, but also the fact that the checking tool cannot establish the logical relationships between the topics and propositions mentioned in the text.

This phenomenon leads us to the next challenge we are confronted with: world knowledge.

World knowledge as a prerequisite

It is commonly acknowledged that automated language checking allows for objective and consistent content checking. However, it can not totally replace human proofreading, as some aspects have to be checked by humans by applying world knowledge. For example, one STE rule could be mentioned where text should be organized logically by using key words and phrases. In order to Identify key words and ensure their correct usage, world knowledge as well as the author’s expertise are both necessary.

Prerequisites for efficient automatic language checking

In order to get the best results when using a checking tool, the following aspects should be taken into account.

Structured texts

As already mentioned above, some STE rules refer to specific types of information. In order to adequately check them, the software must be able to recognize the various structures and interpret them in connection with the linguistic rules. This is possible when texts are generated under structured text formats.

Terminology

Apart from following the STE rules and using the STE dictionary – which defines approved words, don’t forget about your own company’s terminology. It is also recommended to benefit from a sophisticated authoring software, such as an integrated, linguistically based terminology extraction and research program.

Correction proposals and hints for reformulating the text

If a standard like STE is implemented within an automated checking tool, it is very important that the correction proposals and hints for reformulating texts are of high quality and are easy to apply. Even the most straight-forward rules are useless when an author doesn’t understand or correctly and can’t apply them.

If the software allows for choosing correction proposals according to your own requirements, use this option.

Summary

It is possible to check most STE standard rules automatically. Sophisticated, linguistically based software covers nearly all relevant rules for content creation and recognises all approved and non-approved words of the STE dictionary.

The use of checking software creates a lot of added value. The software supports authors by retaining all the information to hand, so they don’t need to remember all the rules and words set by the standard. By continuously prompting the rules, authors can get quicker acquainted with the – kind of “ on the job training”. What’s more, relying on software offers the author the opportunity to focus on content and concentrate on the creative mission in hand.

About the author:

Ursula Reuther holds a degree in applied linguistics and translation studies and has been active in the development and project supervision in connection with automated language processing and language technology since 1986. Her work and interests mainly focus on language standardization, controlled language, and terminology. Since September 2011, she has been active for Congree Language Technologies GmbH in the fields of sales and consulting, in addition to her work at IAILC AG in Saarbrücken, Germany.

Thank you for reading, we hope you found this article insightful.

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This week’s article is dedicated to Candice Burt, an experienced practitioner of applied simplified English, who has decided to bring her considerable expertise to the TCLoc Master’s program for the 2018 academic year.

Candice has made a significant name for herself in the global plain language industry, and now teaches others to cut needlessly complicated terms from legal and technical discourse, rendering such documents more understandable to the average person.

Her career

She has been working as an attorney from 1997, after being accepted into the South African court system. She soon made her way to the UK, where she would have a fateful encounter with a confused client. This formative experience would lead her to seriously rethink the way legal language is used, prompting a deep passion for clear, transparent, and simplified English.

In addition to an illustrious legal career, Candice joined Clarity in 2004, becoming its South African representative and, a decade later, becoming president of the organization. This proudly South African professional has certainly done her country proud.

During this time, Candice co-founded Simplified, a company specializing in the production of simplified legal documentation. She also dedicated herself to teaching others how to simplify impenetrable legal and technical discourse. Simplified is currently based in the UK, but has a significant presence in South Africa.

Besides teaching, Candice is also a plain language activist, and has lobbied the South African government for effective plain language guidelines in the county’s various laws. Through Simplified, she participates in Plain Language Day each year with the aim to bring plain language awareness more broadly.

Involvement at TCLoc

The TCLoc Master’s program is certainly enriched by her presence and our latest intake of students is keen on practicing their plain language muscles. This is a historic year for the TCLoc Master’s, since the class of 2018 is the biggest one the program has ever taken in. We look forward to imparting detailed technical communication skills to these eager individuals.

We would therefore like to wish Candice good luck with her work at TCLoc. Welcome Candice!

Sources:

  • http://www.simplifiedcommunication.co.uk/index.php/candice-burt/
  • https://mastertcloc.unistra.fr/