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What is Simplified Technical English?

Having assisted companies for almost 2 decades now and having trained more than 3000 technical writers worldwide, we want to give you a more in-depth look at Simplified Technical English (STE), the value it brings, and how to successfully implement it. As such, we listed a number of frequently asked questions with their answers.

clarity in writing booklet
Figure 1. STE Booklet

What is Simplified Technical English (STE)?

Simplified Technical English (STE) is a controlled language developed in 1986 so that second-language speakers of English could clearly understand technical information written in English. The specification gives technical authors approximately 60 writing rules and a dictionary that contains about 3,000 words (although companies will need to add their own corporate and industry terms as well) to help them improve clarity in writing. When writers use the rules and the approved words, they are more likely to create information that is clear and concise. Currently, more than 60% of companies requesting a free copy of the STE specification are not aerospace and defense companies and are using the STE spec as a basis for their own controlled authoring needs. These industries include medical, machinery, agriculture, oil and gas, IT and pharmaceutical.

For an historic overview and more in-depth information, please request our free 112-page booklet: Advanced Technology for Clear Documentation [Refer to fig 1.].

How does STE compare to other style guides?

What values does clarity in writing bring for my business?

Are their business drivers for bringing clarity to technical writing? What values does this bring and are there case studies from companies with meaningful metrics? We listed a number of them:

Safety!

Technical information plays a crucial role in safe product use and maintenance. We cannot assume that information that is clear to us is therefore also clear to our end users. Technical writers can have different language, cultural and technical backgrounds, and write for an audience that may or may not have English as their native language and may also have different cultural or technical backgrounds. English is a rich language with many words having more than one meaning, so it’s easy to get confused. Confusion and misinterpretations can lead to dangerous situations.

One (quality) voice

Simplified Technical English helps you to create one voice for your customers because it gives all of your writers, wherever they are in the world, a common standard to work to. (One example is the use of consistent terminology throughout your technical publications. STE also improves the quality of your writing because it enforces clarity. If end users can easily understand the supporting documentation, they are more likely to be satisfied with their product, which will positively affect your company’s reputation and brand.

Cost savings

Simplified Technical English can also create efficiency throughout the product lifecycle, including:

  • shorter time-to-market as STE leads to a more efficient writing and editorial process (writing less content that is more reusable, and faster and cheaper to translate) in the long run;
  • efficient installation, commissioning and training thanks to the short and clear instructions;
  • safe and efficient operations, increased productivity, and uptime; and
  • improved aftermarket business thanks to the consistent use of terminology in (spare) parts, making them easier to find and buy.

Future proof

In addition to making content more reusable due to it being short and to-the-point, especially when combined with specifications like S1000D, Simplified Technical English also facilitates your digitalization, IoT (Internet of Things) and Augmented Reality strategies.

Digitalization is an important industry trend, where companies are digitizing their products and product information to create more value for their customers. STE facilitates this because it allows for digital data, which is now clearer and more concise, to be used, for example, for:

  • machine learning (an important aspect of IoT) to make products more intelligent, and;
  • augmented reality applications, such as providing field service engineering with interactive and clear instructions on headsets.

Remember, your end user doesn’t care about which standards you use to create, manage and publish your content. An end user, like a field service engineer, is only interested in getting quick and easy access to information that will allow him/her to do their job efficiently. Again, this can have a positive effect on your branding.

How to set metrics and KPIs

As the saying goes: ‘you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been’. In other words, in order to set your goals, such as quality score and cost savings, you first need to know what your current cost or inefficiency is, which is not always easy to do. For instance, if you are looking to save translation cost, find out what you are currently spending. The metrics we provided earlier are good indicators of where you can save on cost and efficiency, and where you can improve on quality. You can use the reports generated by checker software to create a baseline measurement on where your content is today as far as complying with STE and other writing rules. This will then help you define your goals for the future as you continue to measure and adapt these as you move forward.

Over the years we have been able to achieve some great results for our customers. These are some good indicators of what can be achieved:

  • Up to 30% in cost savings on translation and localization. Due to an increase in consistent use of words and short sentences, translation costs will go down.
  • Up to 40% in reduced word count, mainly as a result from learning how to write the ‘need-to-know’ and omit the ‘nice-to-know’, which is a direct result of receiving STE writer training.
  • Quality improvement in writing and translations. STE will improve the quality of writing as it makes technical text easier to understand. The same is also true for translations as they consequently also become clearer.
  • Up to 30% in reduced product cycle time. This is a long-term goal that will be realized as writers will produce less text and therefore will require less time to write content.
  • Up to 40% reduction in overall documentation cost. This is another long-term goal that will be realized as a result of these combined benefits.
  • Efficient conversion of legacy documents. If you must convert existing (legacy) documentation to STE, having checker software in place can be a great aid as it points out the areas for improvement. Thanks to reports and profile management converting standard text to STE compliant text will become easier.

For more information on what’s involved with an implementation, please visit this page.

We offer free business case analyses if you want to know what Simplified Technical English can do for you. Contact us today for more information!

This article was written by Berry Braster, Technology Director at Etteplan, and Roy Wijnen, Project Manager Controlled Language at Etteplan, with a special thanks to Ciaran Dodd, Independent Controlled Language Expert and Trainer, Ciaran Dodd Training for her comments and review.