Clear communication is vital in every industry, from Medicine, Aviation and Engineering to Training and Education. When your goal is to send important messages, without running the risk of the recipient misunderstanding them, a good starting point is Simplified Technical English (STE).

Using Simplified Technical English to break down communication barriers

The first thing to understand about Simplified Technical English is that it doesn’t mean dumbing down your language in any way. Secondly, in this context, ‘Simplified’ means standardised and with a limited vocabulary.

The benefits of Simplified Technical English

Using STE can make text easier to understand, especially for an international audience, thus allowing you to engage with both native and non-native English speakers. By removing ambiguities from the text, there is less risk that the recipient of the message will fail to catch your meaning and intention.

As well as standardising the language used, STE also reduces the volume of text by approximately 20%. This speeds up reading, leading to fewer questions, as well as offering advantages for translators and their clients if multilingual versions of the text are needed.

Cutting costs with less complication

When you use STE, the cost of translating is typically 30-40% lower. Through the use of translation memories – benefiting from fewer variations in a text than standard translation – the work can be completed more easily.

As a controlled language – reducing confusion in non-expert users of English – and through the use of lists and enumeration instead of long paragraphs, Simplified Technical English is more accessible, and can avoid major misunderstandings of text. Initially developed for use in Aviation and Engineering, STE is now a useful tool in creating materials that a wider group of users can read. For products and services that entail high costs or high risks – or both – it’s vital that the person you’re communicating with is able to clearly comprehend instructions and warnings.

How does it actually work?

STE works by removing ambiguity and limiting sentence length. When writing in STE, remember these basic rules:

  1. Do not use ‘-ing’ forms of verbs, e.g. “opening”, “closing”. They can be confused with nouns.
  2. Do not use potentially ambiguous verbs, e.g. “Oil the fence.” Oil is also a noun.
  3. Write the conditions before the consequences, e.g. “If you touch the cable, you will be electrified.” This is especially important in safety manuals.
  4. Write active sentences. It is clearer to say “Complete the operation” than “The operation must be completed.”

The Simplified Technical English specification provides further detail on the rules, as well as giving an approved list of nouns, adjectives and verbs. STE is tailored to conveying information as clearly as possible.

The use of consistent language also loans itself to the use of machine translation and translation memories. These are useful when it comes to the translation of long or low content-risk documents. While the specification guide for STE does not provide technical language by industry, control over sentence structure and writing limitations enable the inclusion of the specific keywords upon which individual industries rely.

Simplified Technical English and translation

A key goal in translation is interpreting the author’s intention. Translating a text to or from STE is made easier by reducing sentences to their core intended meaning. This allows STE to be used in the translation of documents into multiple languages at one time, giving a framework of sentence structure that can be more easily altered than standard English to suit the sentence syntax and structure in other languages.

Just think of Simplified Technical English as a stepping stone towards getting your message heard how you want it. It couldn’t be simpler. If you want to know more about using simplified technical English, feel free to contact us 🙂