STE Writing Rules and Einstein
The Direct Route…
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein
STE Writing Rules and Einstein Simplicity
Einstein would have liked STE and the STE Writing Rules. He knew that clarity is often sacrificed for complexity. But he also knew that there is a limit to how far things can be simplified. Our blog series on the STE Writing Rules will be on how to use those rules to make what we write as simple as possible but no simpler.
If it takes an advanced degree to read it, then it must be meaningful. Right? Not necessarily. Einstein also suggested that:
“If you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough.”
Einstein could not have anticipated the technological innovation or medical advancements or discoveries in physics that have occurred in the last century. While terms such as prenucleation can be mentioned in sentences that are easily understood, the simple fact is that the explanation of a term like that is as complex as the word itself.
STE Writing Rules and Cleartext
The STE Writing Rules are excellent tools to create clear, unambiguous text: Cleartext. But sometimes clear, unambiguous text is still too complex for everyone to understand.
That is why STE Writing Rules are used with dictionaries. These dictionaries include technical terms that are not in the basic word dictionary.
But not all writing is that technical and does lend itself to Einstein’s theory of simplicity. A product user manual is a good example. Some Assembly Required makes many readers afraid of the assembly experience to come. They are already wondering if they should have gotten an engineering degree so that they could put the product together. They may also be wondering why they wanted it in the first place.
The Genius of Simplicity
“Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex.” – Albert Einstein
It sounds easy but it is not. So, do you have to be a genius to write clearly? If you do simplify what you have to say, will you sound less intelligent?
Simplicity and the Successful Translation
This is a translation into STE of a Code Book paragraph that is said to be Very Difficult on the Flesch Reading Scale. This is an excellent example of something that can be simplified only so far. But archaic jargon such as thereof or convoluted sentences can be revised and the presentation itself simplified. Mandatory Appendix V cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence; thereof can be eliminated. Sometimes the sentence structures appear confusing by intention–the intention being to reduce the number of people that can understand them.
The rules in this Part PR-1 are applicable to boilers and component parts thereof that are fabricated by riveting. These rules shall be used in conjunction with the general requirements in the applicable Parts of this Section and Mandatory Appendix V that pertain to the type of boiler under consideration.
Revision in STE
|The rules in PR-1 are applicable to riveted boilers and parts. These rules are applied with the parts of this Section and Mandatory Appendix V for riveted boilers.|
“Complex technical instructions can be misunderstood and misunderstandings can lead to accidents. STE makes technical texts easy to understand by all readers“
Simplified Technical English Transformation
Simplified Technical English may be what you need if your document has a wide, diverse audience.
Using technical jargon is not the issue. Writing clear, unambiguous text that contains technical jargon is the goal.
Sample STE Writing Rule
Which Words Can You Use?
You can use words that are:
- Approved in the dictionary
- Technical names
- Technical verbs.
The word “use” is an approved word in the dictionary.
The word “engine” is a technical name.
The word “ream” is a technical verb.
ASD-STE100, Simplified Technical English Full Text
This free download is the full text of the ASD-STE100, Issue 7, January 2017, International Specification for the Preparation of Technical Documentation in a Controlled Language
What Are Simplified Technical English Rules?
STE has two parts: a set of writing rules (part 1) and a controlled dictionary (part 2). The writing rules cover aspects of grammar and style. The dictionary gives the general words that a writer can use.
STE addresses difficulties in English comprehension related to complex sentence structures, confusing word forms, and ambiguous vocabulary.
The Writing Rules differentiate between two types of topics: procedure and description. The STE Writing Rules also specify restrictions on grammar and style usage. For example, they require writers to:
- Restrict the length of noun clusters to no more than three words
- Restrict sentence length to no more than 20 words
- Restrict paragraphs to no more than 6 sentences
- Avoid slang and jargon while allowing for specific terminology
- Make instructions as specific as possible
- Use articles such as “a/an” and “the” wherever possible
- Use simple verb tenses
- Use active voice
- Write sequential steps as separate sentences
- Start a safety instruction (a warning or a caution) with a clear and simple command or condition.
STE has a controlled general dictionary that gives the words that are most frequently used in technical writing.
The approved words were selected because they were simple and easy to recognize. In general, each word has only one meaning and functions as only one part of speech. For example, “to fall” has the approved meaning of “to move down by the force of gravity,” and not “to decrease”.
When there are several words in English for the same thing (synonyms), STE permits one of these synonyms to the exclusion of the others. For example, STE uses “start” instead of “begin”, “commence”, “initiate”, or “originate”. STE approved meanings and spelling are based on American English (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary).
In addition to its general dictionary, STE permits the use of company-specific or project-oriented technical words (referred to in STE as technical names and technical verbs). These words are related to the categories listed in the respective rules.
Basically, writers can use the approved words in the dictionary as a core vocabulary. But they can also use terms that are usual in their companies or industries and applicable to their projects and products.
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.
What is ASD-STE100?
ASD SIMPLIFIED TECHNICAL ENGLISH
EUROPEAN UNION TRADE MARK NO. 017966390
INTERNATIONAL SPECIFICATION FOR THE PREPARATION OF TECHNICAL DOCUMENTATION IN A CONTROLLED LANGUAGE
According to the ASD-STE100 website, English is the international language of science, technology and human relations. It is also the language of the aerospace and defense industry. However, it is not often the native language of the readers of technical documentation. Many readers have a limited knowledge of English. Complex sentence structure and the large number of meanings and synonyms that many English words have can cause confusion.
On June 30, 1983, in Amsterdam, the AECMA Simplified English Working Group was founded and the AECMA Simplified English project started.
The product of this effort was the AECMA Simplified English Guide (first release in 1986) which, in 2005, became the ASD Simplified Technical English Specification, ASD-STE100.
The success of STE is such that other industries use it beyond its original intended purpose of aerospace maintenance documentation. Interest in STE has also increased dramatically in the areas of language services, professional translation and interpreting, as well as in the academic world.
Would you like more information about STE?
Contact us to learn more about Simplified Technical English or to discuss a project.
“The objective of Simplified Technical English is clear, unambiguous writing. Developed primarily for non-native English speakers, it is also known to improve the readability of maintenance text for native speakers. ASD Simplified Technical English does not attempt to define English grammar or prescribe correct English. It does attempt to limit the range of English, and many of its rules are recommendations found in technical writing textbooks. – Boeing, STE Originator