How Simplified Technical English is changing localization

April 26, 2019by Rebecca Metcalf
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Whether you’re dealing with an aircraft, an industrial robot, or a pump, when it comes to configuring and maintaining machinery there is no room for error. Mistakes during installation or servicing can lead to equipment failure, accidents, and even fatalities. That’s why it’s so important for technical documentation to be clear and concise, with no room for misunderstanding.

But achieving this level of clarity can be a major challenge, especially when you factor in language barriers: even though English is the prevailing language for technical documentation, engineers and end-users are not always native speakers.

Standardize and simplify

The proven solution to this problem is Simplified Technical English (STE). Originally developed for the aerospace industry, STE is a controlled language that utilizes a limited vocabulary where each word has a single, clearly defined meaning. By keeping word usage and linguistic construction simple and consistent, STE minimizes the potential for misunderstandings.

Today, STE is seeing growing popularity outside of aviation. In the manufacturing sector in particular, businesses and technical communicators are increasingly seeing the advantages of employing a preexisting, standardized framework for their technical writing. Internal style guides and glossaries are not new concepts, but developing them from scratch and keeping them up-to-date can be immensely time-consuming. In contrast, STE is a premade and proven system, and organizations can easily adopt it with just minor customizations to suit their industry.

But how can you tell if STE is right for your business? Well, consider this question: Is proper understanding of your installation and maintenance documentation critical to safety? If your answer is “yes”, then STE is almost certainly a good fit.

From simplified English to simplified translation

STE is an excellent way to make your technical documentation more consistent and easier to understand for non-native English speakers, but it isn’t always enough on its own. Sometimes you will need to go one step further and translate your content.

Target audience is the biggest factor here. If your end user doesn’t speak English at a high enough level, or at all, then translation is obviously the best option. This situation is especially common in B2C scenarios where the customer base is wider and potentially more varied.

When localizing technical documentation, STE still offers the ideal starting point, since the benefits of STE (reduced ambiguity, improved clarity and consistency) are passed on to the localized content.

By localizing your existing STE style guide and glossary for each of your target languages, you can maintain the same degree of clarity in your translations as you have in your source content. This approach reduces ambiguity from the localization process, minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or error and resulting in a higher quality, easy-to-use end product.

Additionally, authoring source content in a concise and standardized way will enable you to make the best use of translation memory (TM) technology. TM systems automatically provide suggestions to translators by remembering past translations. And when sentence construction, word usage and grammar are kept consistent in the source language, the potential for TM leveraging – and the resulting time and cost savings – goes up significantly.

Benefits for writers, readers, and businesses

Improved end-user safety is the main reason for adopting STE and standardized translations, but it is far from the only benefit. The approach we have described in this blog can make life easier for technical writers, translators, and customers, while also delivering considerable savings to your business., using the same controlled language across all projects makes content creation much more straightforward. With this methodology, technical communicators typically make fewer errors, spend less time worrying about word choice, and gain more benefit from TM systems – all of which help them to work more effectively and productively.

  • For writers, using the same controlled language across all projects makes content creation much more straightforward. With this methodology, technical communicators typically make fewer errors, spend less time worrying about word choice, and gain more benefit from TM systems – all of which help them to work more effectively and productively.
  • From the business perspective, STE keeps content concise and wordcount low. This leads to lower translation volumes and lower costs, especially when combined with improved TM system utilization.
  • Last but not least, implementing these standards will greatly enhance the consistency of technical documentation across your company as a whole. When instructions are always written in the same way, repeat customers will have a far easier time safely getting to grips with new products.
Partnering for success

Adopting STE principles in other languages can seem daunting, but that’s where Rubric comes in. Our expert team will work with you to develop bespoke localization style guides and advise on how to embed best practice terminology processes into your business.

Our experts can also help inform your decisions on the tooling and architecture used in your localization process. These choices will have a major, multiplicative effect on the quality of your content and the efficiency of your processes – so the earlier you involve us, the better!

If you’d like to learn more about STE or our localization services, we’ll be at the STC 2019 Technical Communication Summit & Expo in Denver, CO next week. Come visit us at Booth #304 from May 5th-8th – we’d love to meet you! If you aren’t in the Denver area, be sure to follow us on social media for the latest updates.

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Rebecca Metcalf

Rebecca Metcalf

Rebecca is a Global Content Business Analyst at Rubric. With a wealth of experience in the localization industry, Rebecca’s focus is on expert business analysis of clients' global content needs, content and data architecture, globalization strategy and working practices. Key to her role is understanding a client’s process, what success and value mean to them, and what outcomes are required for quality content and ROI. Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs, Rebecca partners with clients to design solutions and frameworks that deliver long-term globalization success.

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