Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The value of rules in Simplified Technical English

Rules regulate the choice and use of words, building phrases and sentences, the use of articles, the verb tenses that can be used and (to some extent) the punctuation. Some of the rules are specific to procedural or to descriptive text. Part of the rules is generally known to professional communicators, but the overall set is in general rather nicely balanced while going beyond most corporate and general style guides.


Some examples of rules are:

• Keep procedural sentences as short as possible
  (20 words maximum).
• In an instruction, write the verb in the imperative
  (“command”) form.
• Keep sentences in descriptive writing as short as
  possible (25 words maximum).
• Start a warning or a caution with a simple and
  clear command.

Each rule comes with an often lengthy explanation. 

If I could only pick one rule that has a lot of positive impact on readability and re-use, it would be rule 1.1, which basically tells us that we can only use approved words (yes, that’s right –every single word we use has to be approved), and that these words can  come  from  three sources: the general approve vocabulary listed in the specification, Technical  Names and Technical Verbs. The latter two are determined by the user, based on industry, company and product. 

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