"A Pinch of STE"—Would It Work?

Blog post from Dec 12, 2017

ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English, or "STE" for short, is one of the most common controlled languages in the field of technical documentation. Sooner or later, the keyword "STE" will usually come up when discussing writing standards with technical writers who create English texts.

Many companies wonder whether STE would not be suitable for them. To use "a pinch of STE" to standardize the corporate language sounds appealing. But would it work? Actually, there are several aspects that need to be observed, and "a pinch of STE" would basically conflict with the concept of the standard.

What Is STE?

STE is a controlled language from the aviation, space, and defense industrytypo3/#_ftn1 and is classified as a prescriptive approach. This means that STE clearly determines which language constructions are permitted. Everything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited. Apart from a collection of writing rules such as "Use a vertical list for complex texts", the approach provides an extensive list of permitted words. Remember, though, that a word list is not the same as terminology. This observation brings up the question where the limits of STE lie.

What Are the Limits of the Standard?

Supplements Needed

The standard states that it should not be used alone, but in combination with other standards and methods:

"It is intended to be used with other applicable specifications for technical publications, style guides, and official directives." (ASD 2017: ASD-STE100 – Issue 7, page 14)

The word list is one example that shows why STE needs to be combined with other methods: The word list provides general and technical vocabulary, classifying the words as permitted or prohibited, sometimes also with respect to their word type. Apart from this vocabulary, every company has its own terminology with preferred and deprecated terms.

This corporate terminology is not covered by STE and must therefore be used additionally.

STE Only as an Overall Package

Back to the opening question: "A pinch of STE" would conflict with the concept of the standard. Theoretically, a technical writer could apply some individual writing rules. The actual standard, however, represents an overall package and does not provide for partial application or isolated use of suitable rules.

How Can STE Be Used?

Technical writers could of course obtain the latest edition of the standard, read it carefully, and start applying it. However, this would not be easy, and the authors of the standard do not encourage such an approach:

"Simply giving authors a copy of the specification is probably the best way to discourage them from learning about STE, and applying it correctly."typo3/#_ftn1

Instead, it would be far more effective to get proper training and use a computer-based author assistance tool.

Would you like to learn more about the Congree Authoring Server and STE? Contact us!

tl;dr

The possibility to use STE (Simplified Technical English) to standardize the corporate language sounds appealing. But there are several aspects that need to be observed. For example, "a pinch of STE" would basically conflict with the concept of the standard.