February 2014 Meeting Discussion: A Case Study of Simplified Technical English for Translation

Presented by Nathaniel Lim, and reviewed by Louise Galindo

Nathaniel Lim is a senior technical writer who helped to develop a subset of Simplified Technical English for Electra, called EASE- Electra Approved Simplified English. He gave a lively and informative talk about the project, but also shared with us a number of the guidelines that his company uses, which are guidelines that speak to all technical communicators who are interested in STE and topic-based writing.

My team worked with the following sentence: Rewrite these sentences. (My team’s rewrites are at the end of the article.)

 

  • Users can filter by certain options in the software. Using a filter narrows the option list.

 
This project started because Electra wanted to manage translation costs by reducing word count by 30%. The company translates its content to 25 languages so the need to reduce costs was evident. Nathaniel based the vocabulary that Electra uses on the larger STE approved vocabulary. The writers had two days of training to learn how to use the approved vocabulary. It was pretty impressive to hear about that commitment to training.

The writers have a list of approved and nonapproved verbs. They also have text limits that include:

  • Procedure sentence: 20 word maximum. (Tough.)
  • Descriptive sentence: 25 word maximum. (Tougher.)
  • Paragraph: 6 sentences maximum. (Not bad!)

In addition, he presented some of the 58 writing rules that writers are required to learn:

  • One word has one meaning and is a verb or a noun, but not both.
  • Delete courtesy words: welcome, please, thank you, and so on.
  • Do not make noun clusters of more than three nouns.
  • No semicolons (;).
  • No possessives.
  • Do not use present participle, for example, You are adjusting…
  • Be specific in a warning or caution. Make sure that the reason for why it is a warning or caution is clear.

As a technical editor, Nathaniel’s rules were music to my ears. Simplify, simplify, simplify!

Nathaniel pointed out that how you write a sentence is based on whether it is a concept/description or a step in a task. The sentences at the beginning of this article might be a step or they might be a concept.

Here are ways to rewrite the two sentences. Regardless of how you rewrite these, the idea that writing itself is different depending on whether you have a step or a concept is important to understand.

 

  • Concept/Description: A filter lets you decrease the options.
  • Procedure: Use (Create?) a filter to decrease the list of options.

 
Nathaniel is a wonderful presenter, and in this case, he gave terrific takeaways that re-enforce guidelines for STE, topic-based writing, and translation.

Louise Galindo is the Senior Technical Editor at Splunk, Inc. She is also the Co-Manager for the STC Technical Editing SIG. (We are looking for a co-manager.) Louise is also an Instructor at UC Berkeley Extension, where she teaches Technical Communication I and II.

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