Standard Technical English (STE) Rules According to Star Wars

A few months ago I wrote an introduction to Standard Technical English (STE). Check it out if you want to get a better idea of the history, uses, and benefits of STE.

The following article is a visual representation of the STE rules using Star Wars. I also included a high-level explaination of each rule.

words WORDS:

  • Use STE approved words.
  • Make sure that you only use the approved forms of verbs and adjectives shown in the STE dictionary.
  • It is okay to use Technical Names not listed in the dictionary. Only use the Technical Name as a noun or adjective, never as a verb. If possible shorten Technical Names. However make sure that you are not using jargon or slang.
  • Be consistent. Once you decide on what to call something then continue to use that name and spelling.
  • Avoid abstractions. Meaning, use word that are specific. Do not leave the reader in doubt as to how to proceed. For example, Do not write “Tighten the filter securely.” What does securely mean? Securely to me may be different than securely to you. Instead write, tighten the filter one-quarter turn after the gasket touches the housing.

A noun cluster is one or more nouns used to describe or modify another noun. For example: C-3PO Human-Cyborg Relations.

Clusters are acceptable in STE. However, they can be confusing to readers. If you cannot shorten a noun cluster because it is an official technical name, then clarify it by using hyphens to show the relationship between related word or explain the noun cluster and then use a shorter noun cluster. For example, C-3PO Human-Cyborg Relations can be shortened to C-3PO.

word clusters
verbs VERBS:

The STE rule state that you can only use the approve form and tense of a verb. For example it shows that you can use ADJUST, ADJUSTS, and ADJUSTED. So you cannot use ADJUSTING. As a matter of fact you cannot use the gerund version of any verb except those that are a Technical Name.

In Simplified English, if there is an approved verb that describes an action then use the verb. Do not use a noun. For example, do not write “The meter gives an indication …” you can just say, “the meter shows …”

The last rule governing verbs is to use the active voice for all procedures and as much as possible in descriptive writing. If you do not know the difference between active and passive voice, then learn it! Even outside of technical writing, the active voice makes your writing stronger. This is so important that the STE manual even has a little mini lesson on active and passive voice.


Keep them short. One topic per sentence. However, do not omit words or use contractions to make your sentences shorter. It is okay to use connecting words, such as AND and BUT, to join two sentences if the sentences have related thoughts.

If you have complex texts, then use a vertical list.

procedures PROCEDURES:

  • Keep procedural sentences as short as possible and at a maximum of 20 words.
  • Only have one instruction per sentence unless more than one action is done at the same time.
  • Use the imperative form of verbs (i.e. the command form). Tell the reader to DO something instead of telling him that he CAN, or SHOULD do something. Think of having “you must” in front of the verb. Finally, procedures may contain descriptive statements. A descriptive statement is a dependent phrase or clause. If you use one then it must be separated from the rest of the instruction with a comma.

Descriptive writing is different than descriptive statements. The statement were clauses. Descriptive writing, gives information. The opposite of procedures which give instruction.

Descriptive writing takes the form of introduction text, operation topic, notes, and other similar text.

Even with descriptive writing, you want to keep the sentences as short as possible (a max of 25 words) but try to vary the length and construction to keep it interesting. There should be a maximum of the sentences in each paragraph.

Use paragraphs to show the logic of text. Each paragraph must only have one topic and should start with a topic sentence.

descriptive writing

Do you see the issue with this graphic?

It reads that there is a danger of injury, so it should be a Warning instead of a Caution. A warning means that injury or death is possible if the instructions are not obeyed. A caution means that damage to equipment is possible. A note is added to give more information.

  1. Start a warning or a caution with a simple and clear command.
  2. Be specific in a warning or caution.
  3. Add a brief explanation, if necessary, to give a clear indication of the possible risk.
  4. Correctly identify the information as either warning or caution.
  5. If a condition is necessary before the reader continues, then put the condition first. For example: “Turn the power switch off before continuing. Electrocution could occur if proper procedures are not followed.”
  6. If you are writing a note it should not give a command, just information.

There are punctuation rules that are a matter of opinion. However, STE states “Punctuation marks show how parts of the text are related to each other. Punctuation can make your text more readable and the meaning more obvious … If you want to write clearly and help your reader, you must use punctuation marks skillfully and not by personal preference.”

The STE rules do not get into detail on the specific requirements of punctuation but it refers people to the US Government Printing Office Style Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, The Gregg Reference Manual, and J. Kirkman’s Full Marks.

By the way, all of those references mandate the use of the serial comma.

A few rules that the STE does state about punctuation that is worth noting is:

  • To use colons in the introductory statement before vertical lists and use dashes at the beginning of each line in the list instead of bullet points.
  • Use a hyphen to make word clusters easier to understand, however do not overuse them.
  • Use parentheses to make a cross reference to illustrations or text, to quote letters or numbers that identify items on an illustration, and to set off text that is not part of the main statement.


writing practice WRITING PRACTICES:

This one is easier than it sounds. It deals with moving from everyday English to Simplified Technical English.

  • Do not rely on a word-for-word replacement when switching from everyday English to STE. You may need to replace a “not approved” with an “approved” word which is another part of speech, switch from passive to active voice, etc.
  • When you combine words to make a phrase, make sure that the words still obey the meanings given to them in the dictionary. Some phrases in English have meanings which are different from the meanings assigned to the individual words in the STE dictionary. If this happens then the phrase is not permitted.
  • For example, “Clean up your mess.” The words clean and up are approved, but when you put them together the meaning changes. In STE you need to say, remove your mess.
  • Finally, use the dictionary correctly. Use the correct words, meanings, and parts of speech. Here is an example, “When you work with Wookies, never insult them.” Work is approved as a noun not as a verb. So you need to write “When you do work with Wookies, never insult them.”