If you simplify your English, you are
freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. ... And when you make a
stupid remark, its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.
Plain English and Simplified English
The main advantages of using a Plain English writing style are as follows:
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.
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
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
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:
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.