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Creating Universally Clear Instructions
by Terralíngua      Posted in  February 24, 2015

Creating Universally Clear Instructions

Often when creating content many do not think beyond the source language. Though your instructions may be clear to you, will they be clear to a reader in another country or culture? Any language needs context to make the meaning clear. This is especially important in technical and instructional texts, where a small error could lead to an expensive court case or a life changing injury.

The use of Simplified Technical English (STE) is one solution to apply to the problem of contextual errors. It is a method that has been used for almost 30 years in the aviation industry. It is a standardized language that ensures all technical documentation with the aviation field is understood on a global level by using rule-based writing.

Use Words and Phrases That Are Easy to Understand

Make your text as simple as possible for the subject matter. This ensures even non-advanced users of a language like English, for example, can understand the written text.

Imagine you are reading a paragraph in a technical manual which says: “This machine uses inflammable liquids; it is not advisable to fill the receptacle while the engine is in motion.”
You might understand the instruction if you were not a native English speaker, but the sentence would be clearer and safer if the paragraph read: “This machine uses gasoline/petrol; turn off the motor before you fill the tank.” Although this text might not appear to be as sophisticated as the first, it is more likely to be correctly understood.

Clear writing involves implementing a terminology system with a set of writing rules combined with a dictionary of controlled or allowed vocabulary. Each sentence should have only one meaning, as well as each word in the sentence. For example, a writer should not use the same word as a vowel and a noun. Rules such as limiting the sentence structure to 25 words make the text easier to read.


Every company has its own terminology or vocabulary in its native tongue as well as that used by its field representatives or in-country contacts. A glossary of these preferred words and phrases should be compiled before a standardized system is used.

This requires a centralized compilation and revision process and should involve a select team composed of those creating content as well as the end users. This ensures the terminology is vetted, wide reaching and quality controlled.

Translation and Terminology Tools

When creating content in other languages, tools such as translation memory software are required to manage consistency. This allows all content providers to search for controlled vocabulary and adapt their text accordingly as well as ensure repetitive text is consistent for current and past works.

Translation memory software also has the capability to find and align words and phrases from previous documents to address the challenge of compiling a multi-language glossary.

In summary, clear text is desirable in any language to ensure understanding and avoid expensive mistakes. Centralized writing guidelines combined with an approved glossary are required to achieve efficient and consistent content.

Terralingua is a professional translation and localization agency, who has been working with some of the world’s top brands. Terralingua can provide your company insight on effective and clear global communications. Please visit our website for further information.

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