STE Rule 1.3
What Is Rule 1.3?
Rule 1.3 is important yet it is not exceptional. It is like many others in Section 1 of the STE Writing Rules. But it is a good example of how the rules work. While the rule sounds straightforward enough, memorizing it is sometimes easier than following it.
Rule 1.3: Use This, Not That
Keep to the approved meaning of a word in the Dictionary. Do not use the word with any other meaning.
“Follow” means “come after”. It does not mean “obey”
Non-STE: Follow the safety instructions.
STE: Obey the safety instructions.
But you can write
STE: Follow the green lights to the nearest staircase.
STE: Do the instructions that follow:
So How Do You Follow Rule 1.3?
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.
Why Use the STE Writing Rules?
Quite simply, STE eliminates Technobabble.
STE addresses difficulties in English comprehension related to complex sentence structures, confusing word forms, and ambiguous vocabulary.
Even the best product is only as good as its documentation and technical data, which allow the customer to use it safely and effectively. Documentation is a vital and integral part of your product.
Most crucially, the documentation needs to do its part to ensure the safe and correct use of the product by providing complete, accurate and effective information. Simplified Technical English (STE) can help you meet documentation compliance requirements, and can also increase the efficiency and productivity of your employees.
Benefits of Using STE
ASD-STE100, S1000D and ATA iSpec 2200
Improve the clarity of technical writing, especially procedural writing
Improve comprehension for people whose first language is not English
Make human translation easier, faster, and more cost effective
Facilitate computer-assisted translation and machine translation
Improve reliability and safety by reducing the probability of errors in maintenance and assembly.
In Plain English
To enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly, and for other purposes.
The purpose of this Act was to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and
Even the federal government has made an attempt to simplify the English used in documents. In an effort to produce documentation that was unambiguous and could be clearly understood by readers, the government enacted the Plain Writing Act of 2010. This legislation required federal agencies to use plain writing in every covered document that the agency issues or substantially revises.
The Plain Writing Act defines plain language as:
Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.
Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Material is in plain language if your audience can:
- Find what they need
- Understand what they find the first time they read or hear it
- Use what they find to meet their need.
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.
The Writing Rules differentiate between two types of topics: procedure and description. The 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 (procedural sentences) or 25 words (descriptive sentences)
- Restrict paragraphs to no more than 6 sentences (in descriptive text)
- 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 (past, present, and future)
- Use active voice
- Do not use present participles or gerunds (unless part of a Technical Name)
- 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.
ASD-STE100, Issue 8
This free download is the full text of the ASD-STE100, Issue 8, the most recent revision, International Specification for the Preparation of Technical Documentation in a Controlled Language
Case study of a Simplified Technical English (STE) conversion in the Engineering sector. The conversion was intended to remove the archaic wording and make the text easier to translate and understand. The transformation resulted in reduced cost and better translations.
Orwellian Writing Rules and Creativity
Creativity need not be sacrificed for the sake of clear text. George Orwell, who had his own set of STE rules to write by, left us proof of that.
“The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for HateWeek. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.” –
George Orwell, 1984
Arguably one of the most famous books ever written, 1984 was the product of an incredibly creative mind. But George Orwell was also acutely aware that he needed to address and engage his audience in plain English. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU was such a powerful image, captured with vivid brushstrokes, that it became part of our cultural lexicon as a description for intrusive government.
George Orwell’s Six Writing Rules
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
“To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.” –
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.
Why Work With Us?
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