DocTrain Day 1 - Simplified Technical English

Wed May 7, 2008

Today I attended a pre-conference workshop on Simplified Technical English (STE) at DocTrain West. Berry Braster, director of Tedopres, presented the benefits of writing documentation using standardized, unambiguous English, especially when materials are being translated into other languages.

The implementation of STE involves developing a company-specific dictionary and using documentation software to aid in the mechanical side of ensuring uniformity of language across the board. The goal is to ultimately reduce costs and facilitate quality assurance. If you’re interested, here’s an abbreviated version of Berry’s powerpoint presentation:

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I found this presentation quite interesting, especially as there is little standardization when it comes to documenting software. Berry actually dismissed Microsoft’s style guide, and even the Chicago manual of style, as incompatible with the goals of STE, but did commend them for the attempt. Some of the audience thought that STE could become too stilted and robotic. Personally, however, I could see the merit of choosing vocabulary, for example, that is completely unambiguous when it comes to reducing workplace accidents.

A case in point - a manual in the aviation industry asked the mechanic to “cut the power” (ie. turn it off), whereupon a mechanic literally cut a power-line with sheers and died from electrocution.

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