Introduction to Simplified Technical English

Simplified Technical English has been in the making since the 1930’s when Basic English was developed and introduced in international trade within the British colonies.

Basic English died out quickly, but then in the 1970’s Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, introduced Caterpillar Fundamental English, or CFE. It was developed to help reduce translation costs.

In the 1980’s the aerospace industry, an industry that is dependent on international communication, created Simplified English. English has always been the aviation standard and it was used for the maintenance and repair documentation. Simplified English helped to reduce miscommunication with people for whom English is not their native language. In 2013, Simplified English was renamed to Simplified Technical English (STE) to separate it from other controlled language approaches.

STE started in the aerospace industry, but it has started gaining attention in other industries as well, such as manufacturing, military, software, regulated industries, and any company that does global business.

To me, as a technical writer, the biggest benefit of Simplified Technical English is that it helps me clearly communicate information to my intended audience even if English is not their first language. I also like the structure. I do not have to guess at the proper grammar or structure. I do not worry if I am a “good writer.” By following the STE Rules and using the STE Dictionary, I know that my goal of communicating information is achieved. My writing is clear and my instructions are easy to follow.

Companies benefit from STE by saving in translation cost; having a standardized way of writing; releasing quality documentation and communications; preventing miscommunications which could be costly or dangerous; facilitating in structured authoring like DITA; and improving customer satisfaction.

I used to tell a joke when people asked “What is a technical writer?” I said, “Do you know those manuals that tell you how to set your VCR clock? I write those.” Yes, I know I’m dating myself and I apologize to those of you that do not fully appreciate the frustration in trying to set a VCR clock. The instructions were impossible to follow resulting in a generation of people that grew up with a VCR flashing 12:00. VCR companies would have had much happier customers if the clock instructions were understandable. They could have been understandable if STE was used.

STE helps you get rid of the garbage in your writing. Sentences are shorter, words are controlled, and actions are more direct. STE also gets rid of garbage like:

  • Slang and jargon
  • Ambiguous words
  • Complex grammar
  • Incomplete sentences

If you want to check out the STE rules, go to the ASD-STE website and request a copy of the STE manual.