Using the principles of Simplified Technical English to create global-ready content

April 25, 2019
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Whether you’re dealing with an aircraft, an industrial robot, or a suite of software, it’s vital that technical documentation is clear and concise, with no room for misunderstanding.
But achieving this level of clarity can be a major challenge in every language.

Standardize and simplify

Originally developed for the aerospace industry, Simplified Technical English (STE) is a controlled language that utilizes a limited vocabulary where each word has a single, clearly defined meaning. It also regulates grammatical rules and promotes concise, clear sentence structures.
By keeping word usage and linguistic construction simple and consistent, STE minimizes the potential for misunderstanding.
While STE may not be a good fit for your organization there are lessons all content authors can learn from STE - and other similar standards such as plainlanguage.

Benefits for your customers

STE is an excellent way to make your technical documentation more consistent and easier to understand. This applies to the original source content and the translated content.
First, this is because if each word has a single meaning the potential for ambiguity (and mistranslation) is removed. This minimizes (or even removes) the risk of misunderstanding or error, and results in a higher quality, easy-to-use end product.
This same concept can be applied to content across any subject area. For example, in the manufacturing sector, does "manual" mean a user manual or something that is not automatic? In telephony, does "home" mean a person's abode, their home phone or a website home page? Using a controlled vocabulary where each word only has one designated meaning removes any ambiguity.
Most people will have had an experience trying to understand poorly written instructions and will understand how frustrating it can be! Consistent, easy-to-follow content improves a customer's experience, which in turn has a positive impact on brand image and customer retention.

Benefits for your organization

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 and spend less time worrying about word choice. Overall this helps them to work more effectively and productively.
From a business perspective, STE keeps content concise and wordcount low. This leads to lower volumes of content, which has a knock-on impact on localization and printing costs.

Benefits for translation

Authoring source content in a concise and standardized way enables you to make the best use of translation memory (TM) technology when translating. 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.
You will also see benefits if you utilize Machine Translation (MT) as MT works best when the meaning of content is clear.


STE and plainlanguage provide frameworks to help authors create content that works!
As The Plain Language Action and Information Network state:
We believe that using plain language will save federal agencies time and money and provide better service to the American public.
Ensuring the users of your content can understand and act on your instructions is fundamental to succesful technical communication. Doing so whilst saving time and money is a win for everyone!
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