The English language is one of the most widely used languages in technical writing. But the English language is complex - rich in idioms, verbal phrases, figure of speeches, synonyms, ambiguous words and terms that may confuse secondary speakers and even native speakers. This is one of the key reasons why some users don’t read help manuals.
While documenting, almost every technical writer contends with the daunting task of communicating complex technical terms in very simple and easy-to-understand words, sentences, and instructions. In most cases, the technical writer’s effort is measured by user feedback.
So to make technical documentations such as user manuals, help files, safety guides etc. easier to understand and user-friendly, the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) developed Simplified Technical English (STE), otherwise known as the ASD-STE100 or the Thumbs-up technique.
STE is primarily important for writing clear and unambiguous content especially for user instructions such as maintenance manuals, user guides, safety guides, and other help documentations. You can learn how to write a great help manual by using the Simplified Technical English approach.
How To Use Simplified Technical English (STE)
The Thumbs-up technique involves three key steps for using Simplified Technical English. These steps are:
- Figure out the relevant information and delete the irrelevant ones.
- Check the approved meaning of words on the online STE Dictionary
- Change your sentences using simple and easy-to-understand languages, according to the suggestions of the STE dictionary.
1. Figure out the relevant information and delete the irrelevant ones
Many instructional content like warnings and task descriptions often contain irrelevant information about how users can complete a task.
For instance: How to install software version 2.11 quickly within few minutes without wasting time.
Can be modified to: How to install software version 2.11 quickly.
Removing other part of the sentence “quickly within few minutes without wasting time” will not alter the instruction in any way.
The first step of the Thumbs-up Technique is about deleting all irrelevant information and leaving only the relevant ones. One easy way to identify irrelevant information is by asking yourself this simple but logical question: “Does the user really need this information or word to complete this task?” If removing any word or phrase will not alter how the task is performed or completed, then you don’t need such word or phrase.
2. Check the approved meaning of words on the online STE Dictionary
The online STE Dictionary contains approved meaning of words that makes technical documentations easier for users to understand. While documenting, chances are you’ll use words you aren’t so sure if users will understand the intended meaning.
You can use the online STE Dictionary as a verification guide to make sure you documentations are user-friendly. The use of approved and unapproved words is summarized in the following four writing rules:
- Only use those forms of verbs and adjectives shown in the STE-Dictionary.
- Keep the approved meaning of a word in the STE-Dictionary. Do not use the word with any word or meaning.
- Choose only words from the words in the dictionary.
- Use approved words only as part of the given speech.
3. Change your sentences using simple and easy-to-understand languages, according to the suggestions of the STE dictionary
This step refers to practically applying the first step of Simplified Technical English. First, you’ll have to determine the relevant information in your documentation and keep them. Delete every irrelevant information. There are two things you can do to convert sentences in your documentations into STE.
First, look up your sentences under the “Approved Example” in the STE Dictionary. There are 66 Writing Rules, while you may not know all of them, you can copy and paste common similar sentences from this column or emulate their structure to create your own sentences.
Second, present the core information, convey it in simple, easy-to-understand language. But documenting in a controlled language requires a functional approach. Practically, there are specific rules for text functions like instructions, results, or warning messages. Here are 2 key examples of functional, controlled-language rules:
Text function: Instruction
Pattern: Verb (infinitive) + article + object + punctuation mark
Example text: Click the button.
Text function: Result
Pattern: Article + object + verb (present tense) + punctuation mark.
Example text: The Expense Report window appears.
The two examples present the core content of the information, expressing it in very simple easy-to-understand language. Keep this in mind when modifying your sentences to adhere to STE.
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