Simplified Technical English and Clearer Documentation through the Thumbs Up Technique (2/3)

As discussed in the beginning of this first article, 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.  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.

hand-159474_960_720The 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. 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.

In this article, Ferry Vermeulen, MSc. will discuss Step #2.

Step #2: Use the online STE-Dictionary and check the approved meaning of words.

The words you choose in your documentation can have a big impact. For example the word “SET” can mean, amongst others: to diminish or decline, fixed and rigid, or to put in a specific position. Writing in a clear, concise and consistent manner is important.

As another example, the sentence “Turn off the engines not required” could mean:

  1. Turn off the engines that are not required, or
  2. Turning off the engines is not required

That’s why the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification contains a dictionary (that is part 2 of the standard). The dictionary is a list of 850 words that are approved for use, but also includes entries for unapproved words. The approved words can only be used according to their specified meaning.

For example, the word “close” can only be used in one of these two meanings:

  1. To operate a circuit breaker to make an electrical circuit.
  2. To move together or to move to a position that stops or prevents materials from going in or out.

So the word “close” may only be used as a verb and not as an adverb. “Do not go close to the test rig during the test” is therefore an unapproved use of the word close.

Usually, each word is permitted for only one part of speech. For example, the dictionary specifies the word ‘oil’ as a noun. Therefore, the word ‘oil’ must not be used as a verb:

  • ‘Oil the valve’ is not permitted, because in this sentence ‘oil’ is a verb.
  • ‘The oil is dirty’ is permitted, because in this sentence ‘oil’ is a noun.

The use of approved and unapproved words is summarised in the following four writing rules:

  1. Choose only words from the words in the dictionary.
  2. Use approved words only as part of the given speech.
  3. Keep the approved meaning of a word in the STE-Dictionary. Do not use the word with any word or meaning.
  4. Only use those forms of verbs and adjectives shown in the STE-Dictionary.

You can check whether a word is approved or unapproved by using the online STE-Dictionary which is accessible through this Simplifed Technical English article. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and leave some deatils to get access to the STE-Dictionary Checker. When you have got your access, in order to check the approved/unapproved meaning of a word, do the following:

  1. Login to the online STE-Dictionary.
  2. In the Search field, type the word that you want to check (e.g. type ENSURE).
  3. Click OK. All entries which contain ENSURE are marked.
  4. Select the approved word to use in your documentation (see the explanation below).

When searching for a specific keyword, everything in CAPITAL letters is approved in Simplified Technical English. Keywords in lower case show that you must use another word or a different construction.

You will find the following information in the four columns:

  1. Keyword (part of speech):

Use an approved word only as part of the speech shown. Every approved word in STE is permitted only as a specific word type. E.g. “ACCESS“is only permitted as a noun (the access), but not as adjective (accessible). There are eight parts of speech used in STE: verb (v), noun (n), pronoun (pn), article (art), adjective (adj), adverb (adv), preposition (pre) and conjunction (con).

  1. Approved meaning/ALTERNATIVES:

This contains the meaning of an approved keyword used in STE, as some words can have more than one meaning in everyday English. For unapproved words, this column lists approved alternatives. If a Technical Name or a Technical Verb is used in an approved meaning, this word is identified as (TN) or (TV).

  1. Approved example:

This column shows how an approved word can be used correctly, or how to use the suggested approved alternatives to replace unapproved words.

  1. Not approved:

This column gives examples of text that is not written in STE and is using an unapproved keyword.

Let’s go back to the example I used in Step #1. After putting the green highlighted words in the online STE-Dictionary, I found the following approved words:

Used word Approved word
Oil Oil (TN)
Engine Engine (TN)
Skin Skin
Toxic Poisonous
Absorbtion Absorb (v)

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 2 of the Thumb Up Technique is about  using the (online) STE-Dictionary and check the approved meaning of words.

Challenges (answers can be found below):

Scissors1. Let’s try it yourself. What could the sentence “Cut the power” mean?
2. Go to the (online) STE-Dictionary and find the approved STE sentence for “Cut the power.”

 

[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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*Answers to challenges:

  1. Cut the power could mean to turn off the power or literally to cut the wire into two pieces with a scissor.
  2. When searching for POWER in the dictionary, we find the following approved sentence: DISCONNECT THE POWER SUPPLY