Why use Simplified Technical English in your manuals?

When we write technical documentation, it is necessary to make it easy to understand. I would venture to guess that most aviation technicians have found it difficult to understand what they read from a technical manual, even if read several times. I know in the 40 plus years I have been a technician, I have found the issue more times than I can count! Sometimes I think writers forget why they write the manuals. A technical manual must give the information quickly with minimum confusion.

Aviation technicians not only frequently do the work in harsh conditions, but they also have a slim profit margin. Every minute wasted to decipher their technical data means wasted dollars. The wasted time can also mean a longer time in the hot or cold climate. Think about the aircraft parked on the tarmac in higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. The skin of the aircraft can be so hot that one has to use gloves to prevent burns. Imagine what the temperature in the aircraft is! The technician must have to do the work in the conditions longer than necessary, when the temperature may also be below zero. Hence he must not spend longer than necessary to do the task, to prevent injury.

Writers must make manuals easy to understand using words with only one meaning, avoiding slang or jargon. We must write short sentences with only one operation for each sentence. Be consistent in how we identify an item in the manual. Use a controlled dictionary with words chosen because they are simple and easy to recognize. Writers must remember English is the language of science, technology, and aerospace, but not everyone that reads the manuals is a native English speaker. Complex sentence structure and words with a large number of meanings can cause confusion to native English speakers. What if English was not your first language?  It is imperative that an aviation technician understands the maintenance and operational documentation and the technician must be able to maintain the equipment so the systems operate safely and correctly to protect human lives.

Sound familiar? If you follow the guidelines of ASD-STE100, the Specification for Simplified Technical English (STE) it should. The Specification governs how to write technical manuals in a clear, simple and unambiguous manner so readers in a global society can easily understand them.  Writers use a dictionary of approved words for a core vocabulary. There are a number of rules that guide the writer to keep the text clear and simple. If you do not currently use the STE Specification, I encourage you to start! Write your manuals so all users can easily understand the procedures and descriptions contained in them. The technicians will thank you!


Steven Graves
Technical Writer / Training Coordinator
AEC Inc.


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