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Plain English and Simplified English

Plain English

The main advantages of using a Plain English writing style are as follows:

  • It is faster to write
  • It is faster to read
  • You get your message across more often and more easily
  • Your message is friendly and can be understood by most people

A Plain English writing style does not make your writing childish or reduce its meaning. Neither does it mean that you are forced to "dumb-down" your message, or to avoid using certain words. It does mean that you need to have an appreciation of the grammar of the English language (although Plain English writing does not always have to be 100% grammatically correct). Plain English is a writing technique which was very strongly encouraged by great leaders such as Winston Churchill; and it is one which is used effectively by most senior managers today.

Almost anything can be written (or re-written) in a Plain English style. Whilst we normally write technical documentation, we have also written and edited Plain English documents such as sales literature, company policy documents, organisational procedures, training guides, letters, application forms, web sites and so on.

Some bureaucrats have a tendency to hide behind an "official" writing style that is inefficient and unfriendly. There can be a tendency to produce writing which appears "clever", but is actually jargon-ridden and incomprehensible. If a document can't be understood the people who read it, this makes the document ineffective and potentially harmful. In any event, badly written documents cause problems, both the reader and for the person or organisation who originated them.

Red House Consultancy Services are fully familiar with the techniques of Plain English, and have attended training courses run by the Plain English Campaign. We are more than happy to write new documentation in the Plain English style, or to re-write existing documents in that style. In addition, we are happy to provide training for people who need to communicate clearly.

Gobbledygook

High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

Plain English Writing

Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Simplified English

Whilst Plain English is essentially a writing style aimed at communicating information to a general audience, Simplified English is a much more specialised type of writing. Simplified English has a long history in the aerospace industry; and is effectively the "language" used for all the technical manuals produced for aircraft systems.

The main characteristics of the Simplified English standard are

  • Simplified grammar and style rules.
  • A limited set of approved vocabulary with restricted meanings.
  • A thesaurus of frequently used terms and suggested alternatives.
  • Guidelines for adding new technical words to the approved vocabulary.

The objective of Simplified 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/AECMA Simplified English does not attempt to define English grammar or prescribe correct English. It does attempt to limit the range of English; many of its rules are recommendations found in technical writing textbooks. For example, Simplified English requires writers to

  • Use the active voice
  • Use articles wherever possible
  • Use simple verb tenses
  • Use language consistently
  • Avoid lengthy compound words
  • Use relatively short sentences
Simplified English goes that bit further than Plain English and does define certain words and phrases which must not be used. Generally, these are words whose meanings are commonly confused - especially by people who do not use English as their first language.

We have developed our own in-house production techniques to make global changes to existing documents so they avoid using words which are not included in the Simplified English Dictionary or in the list of Common Abbreviations. This means that we can edit a document much more quickly, than more traditional production methods.

We are happy to produce work which follows the general principles of Simplified English; or to provide documentation which can be certified as being 100% compliant with the particular version of Simplified English.

Conventional English

For example, most native English speakers understand that the words flammable and inflammable, have effectively the same meaning.

Simplified English

People who use English as a second or third language sometimes wrongly believe that flammable has the opposite meaning to the word inflammable. Here you would "ban" the use of the word inflammable and make sure you used flammable instead.

Simplified English is specified by ASD/AECMA (the European Association of Aerospace Industries).

Localisation

One of the key areas for documentation professionals these days is making sure that documentation which crosses language or cultural barriers is fit for purpose.

Of course, the obvious requirement is that manuals are provided in the relevant language. Developing a wonderful new product in the UK and supplying English-language manuals may make you feel great as an engineer or as a software developer, but the product will be poorly received and potentially incorrectly used or installed abroad; if the manuals are not in French, German, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Chinese or other popular languages.

To try and shortcut the process, some people are turning to -so-called machine-assisted translations, such as internet-based translation sites and commercial software such as SDL Trados. Machine-assisted translations can give rise to problems, including:

  • the popular "free-translations" available on many web-sites may not be very good; and may not be able to understand subtle nuances of one or more languages
  • they may not be able to cope with jargon words, acronyms and specialist technical terms
  • if the source material is badly written, the translation is likely to be even worse

On the plus side, machine-assisted translations can use pre-existing translation memories, which allow a specialist translator to be more productive. The combination of a skilled "native-language" speaker and software systems such as Trados will make translations much more efficient and accurate. Working with the same translator who uses a Trados-type system will allow you to build up your own specialised translation memory, making future translation work better and quicker. In short, spending some effort on your translation project(s) at the beginning will pay great dividends in the end.

Another aspect of the need to adapt manuals for use in other countries and/or languages are cultural differences. Colours, icons, symbols and finger gestures which we take for granted in the UK; may be misunderstood or even cause offence in other languages.

The localisation of technical manuals is a fascinating area of our work. It is something that we have been involved with for a number of years.

Red House Consultancy Services Ltd
The Old Post Office, 10 Badger Lane, Blackshawhead, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 7JX.
Phone 01422 846 846
Email contact@red-house-consultancy.co.uk
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: 1996-2015 Red House Consultancy Services Ltd