The Simplified Technical English (STE) specification has promoted clarity in writing since the mid-80s and more companies are adopting it now than ever before. So, let’s have a look a more in-depth look in what’s involved to successfully implement it.
Clarity in writing: what’s involved in an implementation
As a software vendor, you may be surprised to hear us say that software is not the only, but actually one of the steps to take, if you want to successfully implement STE. The S in STE may stand for Simplified, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that writing in STE is ‘simple’.
To improve your clarity in writing, you should take these steps:
Writer training is a very important part of an STE implementation as it not only teaches the writer how to write in STE, but also why the writing rules are in place. Furthermore, training helps a writer distinguish the need-to-know vs. the nice-to-know, which no software tool can help you with as they check for compliance and cannot determine whether information is redundant or not, as this is the job of the writer.
The STE specification contains about 3,000 words, and most of them are generic words from the American Merriam-Webster dictionary. Company or even industry specific words are not included, so it will always be necessary to build a dictionary or terminology list that includes these words. Next, you will need to standardize these words, as many of them will have multiple meanings that will confuse your end users. It’s therefore necessary to approve one meaning and make the other words non-approved. This company or industry dictionary will then sit on top of the STE dictionary and can range from 2,000 – 10,000 additional terms.
Checker software helps technical writers, SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and technical publication managers check content for compliance. Embedded in your content workflow and integrated into your authoring and CMS system, checker software should:
- Check for compliance with style guides, terminology and writing rules, standards, and allow for customization.
- Identify poor constructions, grammar or spelling errors, and style issues.
- Help in identifying problem areas and spot errors quickly and efficiently.
- Reduce the cognitive load that comes with writing and editing all day.
- Create reports to get insight in metrics for cost savings and efficiency gains, including decrease in words and translation efficiency.
Although checker software can give you useful feedback without a company or industry dictionary in place, the feedback will be considerably more useful with a company or industry dictionary in place, as is having STE writer training as well. It’s all of these steps combined that will give you the best results.
Making STE part of your workflow
In addition to the implementation steps mentioned above, it’s also important to include STE in your workflow, which includes:
- Creating awareness amongst everyone in the organization that will directly or indirectly be impacted by STE. For instance, if you have SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) that contribute to the writing process, it’s very important that they are made aware of this initiative. Otherwise, you may encounter resistance to STE.
- Terminology management: depending on the size of the organization, you may want to create a terminology board and assign key users in each business unit. These key users should also be able to discuss and decide whether to approve or not approve new terms, a process that will take some effort at the early stage after the implementation.
- Be aware that in the early phase of STE adoption writers usually require more time to write STE compliant content, because it’s a new way of writing. It may feel more restrictive in the beginning, but that’s simply because you are getting used to the new way of writing. As stated earlier, Simplified Technical English is not ‘simple’. But once you get used to it, which normally requires a number of weeks, you will start noticing the improvements already
- Define what support is available, both with the software, as well as with applying the writing rules and terminology management. Where do users go, if not directly to the vendor. It will be helpful to have key users also answer any questions the technical writers or SMEs may have.
We offer free business case analyses if you want to know what STE can do for you. Contact us today for more information!