Back to the Future – Simplified Technical English

Simplified Technical English

For many years I’ve regarded Simplified Technical English as an outdated legacy from the Aerospace industry. But that opinion has changed radically in the last few weeks and I’m becoming a big fan.

Whilst I’ve been aware for many years of Simplified Technical English and briefly touch on it during our Technical Author Training Programme, I’ve been more interested in recent years in responsive html and wiki based documentation. I’ve never done a project using Simplified Technical English, and never been asked to, during over 35 years in the documentation industry.

Writing in Plain English and Simplified Technical English

One of the most popular courses we run is our Plain English course. In a 12 month period over 2015 – 16, I delivered this one day course nearly 70 times. There is a big appetite amongst organisations to have their staff write in Plain English. It makes them seem more professional, more approachable and more easily understood.

But Plain English is not the same as Simplified Technical English. Plain English isn’t designed for technical communication. It’s a set of principles rather than a standard. These points are well made by Mike Unwalla and Ciaran Dodd in their excellent article ‘The case for ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English’ in the book ‘Current Practices and Trends in Technical and Professional Communication’, edited by Stephen Crabbe.

Unwalla and Dodd make the point that Simplified Technical English has the flexibility to be successful outside Aerospace and Defence. Indeed, it is claimed that over 50% of requests for ASD-STE100 come from industries other than Aerospace and Defence.

So I obtained the latest issue of ASD-STE100 and studied it in detail. It’s Plain English on steroids, but developed specially for technical communicators.

What do I like so much about Simplified Technical English (ASD_STE100)?

  • The grammar rules outlined in Part I of the specification are brilliant. They encapsulate the rules every good technical author should understand and practise.
  • It’s flexibile. Contrary to my previous view, Simplified Technical English can be adapted to different industries and different situations.
  • It imposes structure and consistency on an organisation’s writing. No longer can a manual look as if it has been bolted together from different sources, with all the distractions and problems this causes.
  • When documentation is a global asset, Simplified Technical English is easier to understand for non-English native speakers. It’s also hugely easier to translate.
  • Responsive documentation is now the norm, rather than the exception. Users need to read documentation on mobile devices as well as back in the office. Simplified Technical English works beautifully on projects like this where space can be limited.

I no longer believe Simplified Technical English to be a legacy approach; it may even be the future.

I’m off to study it in greater details and then look for a project on which I can use it. I’ve got a few in mind.

Back to the Future – Simplified Technical English

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