How to Implement Simplified Technical English and Write Clearer Documentation with the Thumbs Up Technique (Part 1/3)

Simplified Technical English (STE) is generally considered as being of great importance for writing clear and unambiguous content, mainly for user instructions like maintenance manuals. However, many technical writers experience specific problems when implementing STE. Although theoretically possible, STE is not an easy language to learn by self-study. The ASD-STE100 Specification is a complex document and many writers have identified the steep learning curve as a disadvantage [1].

In this series of three articles, Ferry Vermeulen, MSc. will show three steps that will help to apply Simplified Technical English, without going through the full learning curve. By following the steps as described in these articles, it is possible to apply the principles of STE to the documentation you write quite easily. The technique, called the Thumbs Up Technique, can be considered as a first step to improve the quality of your content by implementing STE, decrease translation costs and create a better user experience.

The Concepts that make up the Thumbs Up Technique

English is a very rich language. Many words are redundant or ambiguous and English grammar is complex. English is the language most used for writing technical documentation [2]. However, it is often not the native language of the readers of technical documentation, like user manuals and safety instructions. Many readers have a knowledge of English that is limited, and they are easily confused by complex sentence structures and by the number of meanings and synonyms which English words can have [3].

Simplified Technical English was developed to help the users of English-language documentation in understanding what they read, particularly in multinational programs. The ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification has been developed, which contains two parts: STE-writing rules AND the STE-Dictionary.

The Thumbs Up Technique is based on the ASD-STE100 Specification and contains a simplified version of the two parts of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification.

There are three steps that make up The Thumbs Up Technique:

  1. Delete any non-relevant information and determine only relevant information.
  2. Use the online STE-Dictionary and check the approved meaning of words.
  3. Modify your sentences into simple and comprehensible language, based on the suggestions made by the online STE-Dictionary.

This article discusses Step #1.

Step #1: Delete any non-relevant information and determine relevant information

Much instructional content, like tasks and warnings, contains information that is not relevant for the end user in order to complete his task. In the example below, in red has been highlighted all information that is not relevant in order to clearly warn the user; in green, has been highlighted the information the user really needs to know in order or to be warned properly.

THE SYNTHETIC LUBRICATING OIL USED IN THIS ENGINE CONTAINS ADDITIVES WHICH, IF ALLOWED TO COME INTO CONTACT WITH THE SKIN FOR PROLONGED PERIODS, CAN BE TOXIC THROUGH ABSORPTION

Step 1 of the Thumb Up Technique is about getting rid of all non-relevant information and to only select information which is relevant for the end user. You can distinguish those two types of information by asking yourself the question: Does the user really need this word/information in order to complete the task? If not, those words should be removed.

Summary: The Thumbs Up Technique is a way to implement Simplified Technical English, without going through the full learning curve. There are three steps that make up The Thumbs Up Technique. Step 1 of the Thumb Up Technique is about getting rid of all non-relevant information and to only select information which is relevant for the end user.

Challenge: Take a piece of documentation that you have written. Choose a random sentence. Look at each word and ask yourself the question: Does the user really need this word/information in order to complete the task? Or maybe the piece of text you have selected is not even part of a task. In that case you might consider removing the full paragraph or chapter.


 

[1] Master thesis in Cognitive Science Linköping University, Department of Computer and Information Science. “Advantages and disadvantages with Simplified Technical English.“ October 18, 2007. http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:16816/FULLTEXT01

[2] AST-STE100. “The official home of ASD Simplified Technical English, ASD-STE100 (STE). ” 2016. http://www.asd-ste100.org/

[3] MAINTworld. “The Role of Simplified Technical English in Aviation Maintenance.”May 06, 2013. http://www.maintworld.com/HSE/The-Role-of-Simplified-Technical-English-in-Aviation-Maintenance


INSTRKTIV 1-7Ferry227x227Ferry Vermeulen, MSc. is founder of INSTRKTIV and now director of business development. INSTRKTIV helps companies and brands to produce their technical documentation. INSTRKTIV stands for content quality, both in the field of usability and liability: The manual as legal document, which not only serves as the keystone in terms of liability but also promotes safe and proper use, is at the core of this. Since 2006 Ferry has been involved in techcomm. Ferry specialises in providing companies and brands knowledge, ready-to-print documentation, capacity and tools & training. His own main specialisation is CE marking and meeting legal requirements.  Over the years, Ferry gained knowledge through training and education on European and U.S. legislation regarding instructions, usability, UX, Simplified Technical English, single sourcing, content management, MadCap Software and SCHEMA software, Information Mapping and minimalism in techcomm.

As my background is in Industrial Design Engineering, everything I create with INSTRKTIV is legally compliant, super user friendly and well designed to help you decrease liablity, get more satisfied customers and safe costs.

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Ferry Vermeulen