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Simplified Technical English (STE) Case Study: How to Use the Thumbs Up Technique With My Online STE Dictionary and Decrease Translation Costs by 20% Directly!

Ferry Vermeulen Tools

Simplified Technical English is a controlled language that is a carefully limited and standardized subset of English. STE is originally developed for aerospace industry maintenance manuals, but many other industries use it as a basis for their own documentation.

Unfortunately there are far too many technical writers today that think Simplified Technical English (STE) is a hard to implement language and available STE-tools are too expensive.

Wrong!

Let me show you how I decreased translation costs by 20% by applying the principles of Simplified Technical English to the documentation that I write.

What's more, I was able to do this without investing in an expensive STE tool. 

How did I save those costs? With the Thumbs Up Technique and a home-brew Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary, both of which I've made FREE available for anyone to use.

Today I will outline in detail the way you can do this yourself.  

Are you a technical writer and do you want to develop your techwriting skills by implementing Simplified Technical English? Or are you a translator and do you want to write for localization? Let me explain how...

Implementing Simplified Technical English for all Technical writers: The Thumbs Up Technique

Before I used the Thumbs Up Technique with the Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary, I'd experienced some difficulties in coming up with clear and unambiguous words and sentences when I was writing user manuals.

So what did I do? I developed the Thumbs Up Technique, a method that also includes the Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary I've created. In a nutshell, this technique contains a simplified version of two parts of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Standard: the STE-writing rules AND the STE-Dictionary.

Using the Thumbs Up Technique together with the Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary, resulted in the following benefits:

    • Clarity in writing/reduce ambiguity
    • Savings on translation
    • Improved safety
    • Reduced maintenance time
    • More efficient writing.

The best part?
You can do the same thing for your content, even if you don’t have the same budget as the marketing or R&D department of the organisation you work for. All you have to do is follow the steps contained in the Thumbs Up technique (described below) and use my Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary. So go and improve your techcomm skills, decrease costs and create happier customers.

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Benefits Simplified Technical English

Copyright © 2016 Shufrans TechDocs. All rights reserved. / Image used and reproduced with permission from Shufrans TechDocs.

 

The 3 steps to Using the “Thumbs Up Technique” to save quickly on translation costs.

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

Step 1: Delete any non-relevant information and determine only relevant information.
Step 2: Go to my Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary (see below) and check the approved meaning of your nouns, verbs etc.
Step 3: Modify your sentences into simple and comprehensible language, based on the suggestions made by the Online STE-Dictionary.

Here’s why this technique works so well (and what it has to do with thumbs up):

English is a very rich language. Many words are redundant or ambiguous and English grammar is complex. Writing in Simplified Technical English is all about making choices between True or False, Correct or Wrong, Relevant and Not Relevant, Good and Wrong and Approved and Non-Approved.

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. Let’s have a look at the following example:

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.

In red I have highlighted all information that is NOT relevant in order to clearly warn the user.

In green I have highlighted the information the user really needs to know in order or to be warned properly. Do you see how much information I consider as NOT relevant?

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.

How do you 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, get rid of those words.

Thumbs up for the green words; Thumbs down for red words!

You may have saved some words already now. It’s time for step 2 to use my Online STE-Dictionary.

Step #2: Use my Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary to check for approved and non-approved words

The words you choose can have a big impact! Let’s have a close look at the word “SET”. This word can, amongst others, mean: to diminish or decline, fixed and rigid, or to put in a specific position. Writing in a clear, concise and consistent manner is of great importance.

Not convinced yet? Let’s look at the sentence “Turn off the engines not required”. This could mean:

  • Turn off the engines that are not required, or
  • Turning off the engines is not required

Let’s try it yourself. What could the sentence “Cut the power mean”?

STE and ambiguity 

That’s why the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Standard contains a dictionary (that is part 2 of the standard). The dictionary is a list of just 850 words that are allowed to be used. The dictionary includes entries of both approved and 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:

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

And here comes the great part! You can check whether a word is approved or unapproved by using my Online Technical English Dictionary. This means there is no need to try to find a Simplified Technical English Dictionary Download. The Online Technical English Dictionary is based on the ASD-STE100 Specification. The ASD is the owner of the copyright of the ASD-STE100 Specification and has been informed about this tool.

In order to check the approved/unapproved meaning of a word, do the following:

  1. When you have asked for access to the tool (see banner below), go to ste-tool.com.
  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 highlighted in green.
  4. Select the approved word to use in your documentation (see the explanation below).

What Does The Online STE-Dictionary Show You?

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

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).

2. 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).

3. 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.

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

STE Dictionary

The Online STE Dictionary is a STE checker, based on the STE-Dictionary from the standard. This technical writing tool can be used directly to implement STE in your own documentation.

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

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

 

Step #3: Modify your sentences into simple and comprehensible language, based on the suggestions made by the Online STE-Dictionary.

This step contains part 1 of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Standard: the writing rules. The standard describes 66 rules!

Now don’t be afraid.

Most technical writers already implement those rules by nature. That’s why I will not mention all 66 rules here. Instead I will show you how to use the short cut (note: for a full implementation of the ASD-STE100 Specification, I strongly recommend you refer to the full specification and/or to follow an STE-training)!

There are two things that will help you to modify your sentences:

1. Look at the sentences in the APPROVED EXAMPLE column of my Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary (the Thumbs Up Tool)

The writing rules have been applied to all these sentences. Without knowing all 66 rules, you can copy/paste commonly used sentences from this column or imitate the way the sentences are built and create your own sentences.

STE writing rules

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2. Present the crux of the information and convey it in simple and comprehensible language

When writing in a functional approach to write in a controlled language, there are specific rules for text functions such as instructions, results or warning messages. Here are two simple examples for functional controlled language rules:

Text function: Instruction
Pattern: Verb (infinitive) + article + object + punctuation mark.
Example: Click the button.

Text function: Result
Pattern: Article + object + verb (present tense) + punctuation mark.
Example: The window “Expense Report” appears.

In both examples the crux of the information is presented and conveyed in a simple and comprehensible language. Keep this in mind when modifying your sentences!

Let’s go back to the example from step #1. I have modified the text to:

DO NOT GET THE ENGINE OIL ON YOUR SKIN. THE OIL IS POISONOUS. IT CAN GO THROUGH YOUR SKIN AND INTO YOUR BODY.

Do you see how far fewer words I used compared to the original text?

Post Conclusion

This is how you can use the Thumbs Up Technique and my Online Simplified Technical English Dictionary to quickly implement STE and improve the quality of content easily.

Unlike other STE tools, you can  implement it immediately and start saving on translation costs. From day one I saved more than 20%!

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Wikipedia about Simplified Technical English:
Simplified Technical English (or Simplified English), is the name of a controlled language originally developed for technical maintenance manuals for the aerospace industry. It is a limited and standardized subset of English. Meanwhile variants have been developed, like Simplified Technical Japanese.

Other tools
There also are other, more advanced STE-tools, like this plugin for MadCap Flare and Acrolinx Software. Do you want to learn more about how to write a manual, subscribe for the newsletter or chech our website.

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