Technical Authors - Documentation Consultants - Content Management













Types of English, Localisation and Translation

There are the types of technical editing that we can provide:

  • Plain English
  • Simplified English
  • Localisation
  • Translation

Plain English

The Plain English Campaign have been important advocates of the use of plain English to help people understand how to deal with potentially complex processes and procedures. The technique is commonly used in the insurance and banking industries; but is becoming more commonplace within the sphere of technical authorship.

The main advantages of using a Plain English writing style are as follows:

  • It is faster to write
  • It is faster to read
  • You get your message across more often and more easily
  • Your message is friendly and can be understood by most people

A Plain English writing style does not make your writing childish or reduce its meaning. Neither does it mean that you are forced to "dumb-down" your message, or to avoid using certain words. It does mean that you need to have an appreciation of the grammar of the English language (although Plain English writing does not always have to be 100% grammatically correct). Plain English is a writing technique which was very strongly encouraged by great leaders such as Winston Churchill; and it is one which is used effectively by most senior managers today.

Almost anything can be written (or re-written) in a Plain English style. Whilst we normally write technical documentation, we have also written and edited Plain English documents such as sales literature, company policy documents, organisational procedures, training guides, letters, application forms, web sites and so on.

Some bureaucrats have a tendency to hide behind an "official" writing style that is inefficient and unfriendly. There can be a tendency to produce writing which appears "clever", but is actually jargon-ridden and incomprehensible. If a document can't be understood the people who read it, this makes the document ineffective and potentially harmful. In any event, badly written documents cause problems, both the reader and for the person or organisation who originated them.

Red House Consultancy Services are fully familiar with the techniques of Plain English, and have attended training courses run by the Plain English Campaign. We are more than happy to write new documentation in the Plain English style, or to re-write existing documents in that style. In addition, we are happy to provide training for people who need to communicate clearly.

Comparison between Gobbledygook and Plain English Writing
Gobbledygook: High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
Plain English Writing: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Simplified English

Whilst Plain English is essentially a writing style aimed at communicating information to a general audience, Simplified English is a much more specialised type of writing. Simplified English has a long history in the aerospace industry; and is effectively the "language" used for all the technical manuals produced for aircraft systems.

The main characteristics of the Simplified English standard are:

  • Simplified grammar and style rules.
  • A limited set of approved vocabulary with restricted meanings.
  • A thesaurus of frequently used terms and suggested alternatives.
  • Guidelines for adding new technical words to the approved vocabulary.

The objective of Simplified English is clear, unambiguous writing. Developed primarily for non-native English speakers, it is also known to improve the readability of maintenance text for native speakers. ASD/AECMA Simplified English does not attempt to define English grammar or prescribe correct English. It does attempt to limit the range of English; many of its rules are recommendations found in technical writing textbooks. For example, Simplified English requires writers to

  • Use the active voice
  • Use articles wherever possible
  • Use simple verb tenses
  • Use language consistently
  • Avoid lengthy compound words
  • Use relatively short sentences

Simplified English goes that bit further than Plain English and does define certain words and phrases which must not be used. Generally, these are words whose meanings are commonly confused - especially by people who do not use English as their first language.

We have developed our own in-house production techniques to make global changes to existing documents so they avoid using words which are not included in the Simplified English Dictionary or in the list of Common Abbreviations. This means that we can edit a document much more quickly, than more traditional production methods.

We are happy to produce work which follows the general principles of Simplified English; or to provide documentation which can be certified as being 100% compliant with the particular version of Simplified English.

Comparison between Conventional English and Simplified English
Conventional English: Most native English speakers understand that the words flammable and inflammable, have effectively the same meaning.
Simplified English: People who use English as a second or third language may wrongly believe that flammable has the opposite meaning to the word inflammable. Here you would "ban" the use of the word inflammable and make sure you used flammable instead.
Simplified English is specified by ASD/AECMA (the European Association of Aerospace Industries).


One of the key areas for documentation professionals these days is making sure that documentation which crosses language or cultural barriers is fit for purpose.

We are happy to work with materials which have original outside the UK and need to be localised to make them more suitable for use in areas where English is the main first language.

Another aspect of the need to adapt manuals for use in other countries and/or languages are cultural differences. Colours, icons, symbols and finger gestures which we take for granted in the UK; may be misunderstood or even cause offence in other languages.

The localisation of technical manuals is a fascinating area of our work. It is something that we have been involved with for a number of years.


Of course, the obvious requirement is that manuals are provided in the relevant language. Developing a new product and supplying English-language manuals may be convenient, but the product may be poorly received or incorrectly used/installed abroad; if the manuals are not in French, German, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Chinese or other popular languages.

To try and shortcut the process, some people are turning to -so-called machine-assisted translations, such as internet-based translation sites. Machine-assisted translations can give rise to problems, including:

  • the popular "free-translations" available on many web-sites may not be very good; and may not be able to understand subtle nuances of different languages
  • they may not be able to cope with jargon words, acronyms and specialist technical terms
  • if the source material is badly written, the translation is likely to be even worse

Away from internet-based translation sites, machine-assisted translations can use pre-existing translation memories, which allow a specialist translator to be more productive. The combination of a skilled "native-language" speaker and software systems such as MadCap Lingo or Trados can usually make translations much more efficient and accurate. Working with the same translator who uses a specialist system will allow you to build up your own bespoke translation memory, making future translation work better and quicker.

We can work with software such as MadCap Flare and Lingo to help process translations issues. We have extensive experience working with specialist translation companies.

Red House Consultancy Services Ltd
The Old Post Office, 10 Badger Lane, Blackshawhead, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 7JX.
Phone 07785 712 200Email
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