Using Simplified Technical English (STE) to Create Clear, Consistent Documentation

Technical writing is governed by a variety of well-established guidelines and standards. Some standards, such as IEEE Std 260.1-1993, Letter symbols for units of measurement, focus on a single topic. Others, such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, offer guidance on the gamut of publication preparation (grammar, punctuation, reference citations, word usage, etc.). Specification ASD-STE100, Simplified Technical English (simply referred to as STE), comprises a complete set of writing rules and a lexicon of approved and unapproved words designed to support authors in the creation of unambiguous and understandable text.

Generally, approved words have only one approved part of speech. For example, the word “test” is approved as a noun, but not as a verb.

STE:Test B is an alternative to test A.
Non-STE:Test the system for leaks.
STE:Do the leak test of the system. or Do a test for leaks in the system.

The word “dim” is approved as an adjective, but not as a verb.

STE:The lamp comes on with a dim light.
Non-STE:Dim the lights.
STE:The lights in the cabin become dim.

Approved words also have approved meanings. For example, the word “fall” has the approved meaning “to move down by the force of gravity,” not to decrease.

STE:Make sure that the tools do not fall into the engine.
Non-STE:When there is a fall in pressure, the indicator shows a leak.
STE:When pressure decreases, the indicator shows that there is a leak.

The word “follow” has the approved meaning “to come after.”

Non-STE:Follow the safety instructions.
STE:Obey the safety instructions.

Although it can take some time to absorb the STE way of writing completely, its application helps to create simple and unambiguous language that is accessible to all readers, especially non-native English speakers. By narrowing word usage, STE promotes quicker and easier translations with fewer fuzzy matches, a high degree of reusability, and text with “one voice,” regardless of the number of writers/editors.

Helpful links:

STE spec:

Merriam-Webster (American English):

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):

Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications:

IEEE Std 260.1-1993, Letter symbols for units of measurement: