How to Create Clearer Translations and Save on Translation Costs Using Simplified Technical English
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Simplified Technical English (STE) is generally considered as being of great importance for writing clear and unambiguous content, mainly for user instructions like maintenance manuals. However, many translators (and also many technical writers) experience specific problems when implementing STE. Although theoretically possible, STE is not an easy language to learn by self-study. The ASD-STE100 Specification is a complex document and many writers have admitted that a disadvantageis the expensive learning-time .
This article shows three steps that will help you to apply Simplified Technical English, without going through the full learning curve. The technique, called the Thumbs Up Technique , can be considered as a first step to implement STE. By applying the steps as described in the technique you will improve the quality of the content you translate, whilst decreasing translation costs and creating a better user experience.
The first section describes the concepts behind the Thumbs Up Technique. The second section shows in detail which steps to follow in order to implement Simplified Technical English.
The concepts that make up the Thumbs Up Technique
English is a very rich language. Many words are redundant or ambiguous and English grammar is complex. English is the language most used for writing technical documentation and many translators are involved in translating documentation into English . However, English is often not the native language of the readers of technical documentation. Most readers have some knowledge of English that is limited, and they are easily confused by complex sentence structures and by the number of meanings and synonyms which English words can have .
Simplified Technical English was developed to help the users of English-language documentation in understanding what they read, particularly in multinational programs. The ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification has been developed, which contains two parts: STE-writing rules AND the STE-Dictionary.
The Thumbs Up Technique is based on the ASD-STE100 Specification and contains a simplified version of the two parts of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification.
Instructions to implement Simplified Technical English
There are three steps that make up the Thumbs Up Technique:
Step #1: Delete any non-relevant information and determine relevant information.
Much instructional content, like tasks and warnings, contains information that is not relevant for the end user in order to complete his or her task.
The example below could be a literal translation from a source text. All the information that is not relevant has been highlighted in redin order to clearly warn the user. The information the user really needs to know in order to be warned properly has been highlighted in green.
THE SYNTHETIC LUBRICATING OIL USED IN THIS ENGINE CONTAINS ADDITIVES WHICH, IF ALLOWED TO COME INTO CONTACT WITH THE SKIN FOR PROLONGED PERIODS, CAN BE TOXIC THROUGH ABSORPTION
Step 1 of the ThumbsUp Technique is about getting rid of all non-relevant information and to only select information which is relevant for the end user. You can distinguish these two types of information by asking yourself the question: Does the user really need this word/information in order to complete the task? If not, those words should be removed.
Step #2: Use the online STE-Dictionary and check the approved meaning of words.
The words you choose in the documentation that you translate can have a big impact. For example, the word “SET” can mean, amongst others: to diminish or decline, fixed and rigid, or to put in a specific position. Translating in a clear, concise and consistent manner is of great importance.
As another example, the sentence “Turn off the engines not required” could mean:
Challenge : Let’s try it yourself. What could the sentence “Cut the power” mean?
That’s why the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification contains a dictionary (that is part 2 of the standard). The dictionary is a list of just 850 words that are allowed to be used in your translated content. The dictionary includes entries of both approved and unapproved words. The approved words can only be used according to their specified meaning.
For example, the word "close" can only be used in one of these two meanings:
So the word “close” may only be used as a verb and not as an adverb. “Do not go close to the test rig during the test” is therefore an unapproved use of the word close.
Usually, each word is permitted for only one part of speech. For example, the dictionary specifies the word ’oil’ as a noun. Therefore, the word ’oil’ must not be used as a verb:
The use of approved and unapproved words is summarised in the following four writing rules:
You can check whether a word is approved or unapproved by using the online STE-Dictionary which is accessible through this site . Scroll down to the bottom of the page and leave some details to get access to the Dictionary. When you can access the online dictionary, in order to check the approved/unapproved meaning of a word, do the following:
When searching for a specific keyword, everything in CAPITAL letters is approved in Simplified Technical English. Keywords in lower case show that you must use another word or a different construction.
You will find the following information in the four columns:
1. Keyword (part of speech):
Use an approved word only as part of the speech shown. Every approved word in STE is permitted only as a specific word type. E.g. “ACCESS“is only permitted as a noun (the access), but not as adjective (accessible). There are eight parts of speech used in STE: verb (v), noun (n), pronoun (pn), article (art), adjective (adj), adverb (adv), preposition (pre) and conjunction (con).
2. Approved meaning/ALTERNATIVES:
This contains the meaning of an approved keyword used in STE, as some words can have more than one meaning in everyday English. For unapproved words, this column lists approved alternatives. If a Technical Name or a Technical Verb is used in an approved meaning, this word is identified as (TN) or (TV).
3. APPROVED EXAMPLE:
This column shows how an approved word can be used correctly, or how to use the suggested approved alternatives to replace unapproved words.
4. Not approved:
This column gives examples of text that is not written in STE and is using an unapproved keyword.
Let’s go back to the example I used in Step #1. After putting the green highlighted words in the online STE-Dictionary, I found the following approved words:
Step #3: Modify the sentences into simple and comprehensible language, based on the suggestions made by the online ST-Dictionary.
This step contains part 1 of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Standard: the writing rules. There are two things that help to modify sentences towards STE:
1. Look at the sentences in the APPROVED EXAMPLE column of the online STE-Dictionary
The writing rules have been applied to all these sentences. Without knowing all 66 writing rules, it is possible to copy/paste commonly used sentences from this column or imitate the way the sentences are built and create your own sentences.
2. Present the crux of the information and convey it in simple and comprehensible language
When writing in a functional controlled language, there are specific rules for text functions such as instructionsand results or warning messages. Here are two simple examples for functional controlled language rules:
Text function: Instruction
Pattern: Verb (infinitive) + article + object + punctuation mark.
Text function: Result
Pattern: Article + object + verb (present tense) + punctuation mark.
In both examples the crux of the information is presented and conveyed in a simple and comprehensible language. Keep this in mind when modifying your sentences.
Let’s go back to the example from step #1. The text has been modified to:
DO NOT GET THE ENGINE OIL ON YOUR SKIN. THE OIL IS POISONOUS. IT CAN GO THROUGH YOUR SKIN AND INTO YOUR BODY.
As can be seen, fewer words have been used compared to the original text.
 Master thesis in Cognitive Science Linköping University, Department of Computer and Information Science. “Advantages and disadvantages with Simplified Technical English.“ October 18, 2007. http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:16816/FULLTEXT01
 AST-STE100. “The official home of ASD Simplified Technical English, ASD-STE100 (STE).” 2016. http://www.asd-ste100.org/
 MAINTworld. “The Role of Simplified Technical English in Aviation Maintenance.”May 06, 2013. http://www.maintworld.com/HSE/The-Role-of-Simplified-Technical-English-in-Aviation-Maintenance
Simplified Technical English (STE) is generally considered as being of great importance for writing clear and unambiguous content, especially for user instructions like maintenance manuals. However, many technical writers experience specific problems when implementing STE. Although theoretically possible, STE is not an easy language to learn through self-study. The A SD-STE100 Specification is a complex document and available STE-tools and training are often expensive.
By following the three steps from the Thumbs Up Technique, it is possible to apply the principles of STE to the documentation quite easily. These steps are:
Step #1: Delete any non-relevant information and determine only relevant information.
Step #2: Use the online STE-Dictionary and check the approved meaning of words.
Step #3: Modify your sentences into simple and comprehensible language, based on the suggestions made by the online STE-Dictionary
The technique can be considered as a first step to improve the quality of content by implementing STE, decrease translations costs and create a better user experience.
Published - May 2016