Simplified English Archives

An Insight Into Using Simplified English

I think that Simplified English does something that is logical with a complex language. It uses nouns as nouns and limits the meaning of a word so that the reader knows exactly what that word means all the time. A good word to describe what Simplified English does is Efficiency. An article in the Times in 1987 stated: With Simplified English we may at last be on the threshold of making English logical and tidy. Will Simplified English work within all areas of English usage? Think what would happen to politics if all politicians said what they meant without any ambiguity.

Most technical authors I know who use Simplified English say they find that it works when writing maintenance procedures but are not as complementary about it when they have to write descriptions or operations. Having to spend a lot of time looking up approved or unapproved words in the dictionary was their main objection. They also did not like having to translate, into Simplified English, existing and sometimes poorly written publications. A significant decrease in their productivity was noticed when they first started to use Simplified English.

simplified englishSome technical authors felt it was “hard to learn a new trick” and the new concept should be introduced in phases. They obviously felt that it was going to take some time to get used to the “new system”. With Simplified English grammar skills need attention so that the technical author knows how to identify the nouns, verbs and function words. It might be easy knowing the word to use, but selecting a replacement for an unapproved word is the difficult part, even with extensive examples. It is not always possible to use the selected alternative, if there is one. In some instances, the dictionary will say that a word is unapproved, but the only alternative is to use a different construction.

My first attempts with Simplified English took a few rewrites until I had mastered it. I have found that once you have used Simplified English on a few occasions you get used to the limited vocabulary and tend to use the same words all the time. When I have used Simplified English I have looked more critically at the text written and this has forced me to be clear and precise. A good example of before and after Simplified English is:

Before: It is equally important that there should be no seasonal changes in the procedures, as, although aircraft fuel system icing due to water contamination is more often met with in winter, it can be equally dangerous during the summer months.

After: Use the same procedures all the time, because water in the fuel system can freeze during winter or summer.

As the aerospace industry uses a lot of maintenance procedures it was quite apparent that the Simplified English language was needed to overcome all the language problems. Therefore with this approved vocabulary and set of rules, technical authors writing in English, worldwide, will be able to write in the same, clear consistent style to present information that is easy to understand by the international aerospace industry.

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Simplied English – Vocabulary and Parts of Speech

Simplified English can be described as a controlled language that is a subset of “normal” English. It consists of a simplified vocabulary of about 1,000 words. These words have clearly defined meanings and they contain a set of rules (about 55) for using the vocabulary.

The approved words and rules are not set in stone because the vocabulary does not contain all the words in the English language. If when using Simplified English in their writing a technical writer / technical author comes across words that are missing, then these would have to be added to the vocabulary. The words in the vocabulary are made up from three sources.

  1. Approved Words.
  2. Technical Names.
  3. Manufacturing Processes.

Using these vocabulary words as parts of speech is the major part of Simplified English.

Parts of Speech : Nouns

Within the Simplified English dictionary Nouns are categorised as Approved Nouns or Technical Names. Wherever possible they must be preceded by a definite article (The), a demonstrative adjective (This) or an indefinite article (a). As the Simplified English vocabulary is limited, the same word may have to be used many times. Synonyms must not be used once a word is chosen it must be continued with. Noun clusters must be avoided at all times. In Simplified English noun clusters of more than three words must be broken up by either:

  • hyphenating;
  • rewriting;
  • a combination of both.

Technical names must be hyphenated to show relationship if the noun cluster is four or more words.


Within Simplified English you must only use the Verbs stated in the dictionary. The …ing form of the verb must not be used. Here are a few examples of the verb Drain:

  • Infinitive: To drain
  • Simple future: To drain
  • Simple present: He/She drains
  • Simple past: He/She drained
  • Past participle: He/She drained.

The past participle must only be used as an adjective either with:

  • a noun (The adjusted link is behind the pillar);
  • or after the verbs To Be or To Become (The wires become disconnected from the switch).

The remaining parts of speech (Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Conjunctions and Prepositions) are used as in conventional English. That is, provided the words in the dictionary are only used as the part of speech indicated.

Having summarised the type of words that make up the Simplified English vocabulary how are these words together to form sentences and paragraphs? There are four types of sentences used in Simplified English:

  1. Statements;
  2. Procedural instructions;
  3. Questions;
  4. Combinations with linking clauses.

The construction of sentences with Simplified English are governed by eight basic rules:

  1. Make instructions as specific as possible.
  2. Do not use abstracts.
  3. Keep to one task per sentence.
  4. Keep sentences short (maximum 20 words).
  5. For descriptive text, one sentence in 10 may be 25 words long.
  6. Do not omit verbs or nouns to make a sentence shorter.
  7. When counting sentence length. A colon (:) or dash (-) count as a full stop.
  8. If a dependant clause is included then it must start the sentence and be separated from the instruction by a comma.

The construction of paragraphs with Simplified English are governed by ten basic rules.

  1. Always start a paragraph with a topic subject.
  2. Each paragraph must cover only one subject.
  3. The maximum length of a paragraph is six sentences.
  4. Use a variety of sentence lengths and constructions to keep the text interesting.
  5. Vary the length of paragraphs.
  6. Do not use one sentence paragraphs more than once in every ten paragraphs (descriptive text only).
  7. Do not overload the text, present new information slowly.
  8. Use a tabular layout of text to help show relationships between complex actions and results.
  9. Try to use the active voice.
  10. Try to end a paragraph with a statement that will form a link with the next paragraph.

The writing of procedures in Simplified English must be in the Active tense. For descriptive text one sentence in ten may be in the passive tense. To change passive to active you can either:

  • change the subject of the sentence;
  • change an infinitive verb for an active verb;
  • change the verb to a commanding form;
  • use the personal pronouns We and You.

Here is an example of the passive and active tenses of the same sentence.

The main landing gear is supported by the side stay. This is Passive because the subject suffers the action of the verb.

The side stay supports the main landing gear. This is Active because the subject does the action of the verb.

A Full stop (.), Comma (,), Colon (:) or Dash (—) are used in Simplified English as in normal English. The other two methods of punctuation, the Bracket (()) and Hyphen (-) have specific rules governing their use in Simplified English.

There are four circumstances when Brackets are used.

  1. To make condensed figure/text references.
  2. To set off text that is not part of the main statement.
  3. To mark text where the separation by Commas is insufficient.
  4. For letters of numbers that indicate items of a list or steps of procedure.

Hyphens are used as a joining signal. There are seven circumstances when Hyphens are used.

  1. Two-word terms used together.
  2. Two-word fractions or numbers.
  3. Adjectives that consist of three or more words.
  4. Terms that consist of a capital letter or a number and a noun.
  5. Compound verbs consisting of a verb and a noun.
  6. Terms in which a prefix ends, with and the root word begins with a vowel.
  7. Terms in which two one syllable words are written together.

Care must be taken when using a Warning or Caution in Simplified English. You must be certain that the right one is being used. A warning or caution must not be a general statement. They must start with a clear and simple command. A brief explanation may be added, if necessary, to give a clear idea of the possible risk involved. A Warning is a danger of injury to people. A Caution is the danger of damage to equipment.

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What Is Simplified English?

Information within technical manuals must be: accurate, complete, relevant, concise, convincing, meaningful and unambiguous before it can be of any use. These seven characteristics all make significant contributions to a technical publication but they are of little use unless there is a precise and clear understanding of the contents by the widest range of users anticipated.

simplified englishSimplified English is a subset of “normal” English that technical writers (technical authors in the UK) can use to improve the readability of aircraft maintenance procedures. Simplified English is not “Simple English” as it demands a very sound working knowledge of conventional English and much greater concentration and awareness by the technical writer / technical author. Simplified English does not cover up for a lack of writing skills. It was designed to be easy for the reader to learn and understand so that the text need not have to be translated. However, if translation is required then Simplified English will make the task easier because of its one word – one meaning philosophy.

Simplified English is a controlled language that has a simplified vocabulary (about 1,000 words), with clearly defined meanings, that has a set of rules (about 55) for using the vocabulary. The approved words and rules are not frozen because not all the words in the English language are included. Technical writers / technical authors might come across words that are missing and consequently these words would have to be added to the vocabulary. The vocabulary words are from three sources.

Approved Words

These are words that are in the Simplified English dictionary. Approved words are indicated in the dictionary as upper case. Only the parts of speech and definitions assigned to the approved word can be used.

If a word is shown as a noun it cannot be used as a verb. An example is the word Test, it is used as a noun and not a verb. Do the leak test for the system  not test the system for leaks.

Technical Names

These are words that fit into one of the categories listed in Simplified English (adjectives and nouns). Technical names can be regarded as un-restricted and are names specified and approved by the company or companies involved.

There are four basic rules covering the use of technical names:

  1. Use only as a noun or an adjective.
  2. Use only the official technical name.
  3. Do not use different technical names for the same thing.
  4. If there is a choice, use the simplest, most easily understood alternative.

There are 20 different categories of technical names:

  • Names in official parts information.
  • Names of locations on the aircraft.
  • Names of tools or equipment.
  • Names of materials and consumables.
  • Names of aircraft support facilities.
  • Names of circuits or systems, their parts or locations in them.
  • Names of persons,groups or bodies.
  • Names of technical records.
  • Mathematical, scientific or engineering terms.
  • Navigational terms.
  • Medical terms.
  • Damage terms.
  • Headings and topics used in specifications.
  • Documents, manuals or parts of a manual.
  • Parts of the body.
  • Units of measurement or dial markings.
  • Numbers.
  • Common personal effects.
  • Environmental conditions.
  • Colours.

Manufacturing Processes

These are words that fit into one of six categories listed in Simplified English (always verbs).

  1. One that removes material.
  2. One that adds material.
  3. One that attaches material.
  4. One that changes the mechanical strength, structure and or physical properties of a material.
  5. One that changes the surface finish of a material.
  6. One that changes the shape of a material.

There are two basic rules covering the use of manufacturing processes:

  1. You must use only the official manufacturing process term.
  2. You can only use a manufacturing process as a verb.
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The Origins of Simplified English

Any technical author who has experience in the preparation of technical documentation will appreciate the problems that arise when trying to select the right words. Do you start, commence, begin, or initiate an action? Not a problem to a reader whose mother tongue is English, but to the rest of the world it can be confusing to use more than one word for the same meaning.

Throughout the centuries there have been numerous proposals to reform the English language. Even in the United States the Simplified Spelling Board was set up to try to come to terms with a much simpler form of English. Mr Al Morin the former chairman of the American Simplified English committee said:

“The problems of publishing technical information are probably more diverse than those of any other publishing process. Not only is the information itself expanding at a tremendous rate, but it can come from diverse sources, such as the engineer who creates the product to the people who manufacture, inspect, service, and use it. All these people write and they all write to convey, often complex, information. The basic purpose of all writing is to get a message across to the reader: it must convey exact meaning. To serve this purpose well, it must be capable of being easily read and easily understood.”

More often than not, writing does get the intended message across but there are occasions when even the largest companies can fail.

simplified englishThe aerospace industry is one industry where the need for a standardisation of language was necessary. As English has been the official language of aviation since 1948, and since then many technical authors and translators, of many nationalities, have been busy either composing text in English or translating it into English. Consequently, all these people worked without any form of common standard of a form of controlled English that they could use based around a specific technical dictionary.

Therefore with this in mind, the major airlines within the aerospace industry, identified the need for a clear communication of complex maintenance data with some form of technical English.

In the late 1970’s the Association of European Airlines (AEA) asked the European Aviation Industry Association – Association Europeenne des Constructeurs de Materiel Aerospatial (AECMA) to apply a form of basic English to future documentation.

As a result the AECMA documentation working group was set up. The working group researched all the procedural text within the existing manuals and came up with its initial suggestions for improvement. The initial suggestions had highlighted the need to rationalise the number of verbs that were originally used. A list of recommended verbs and a draft set of writing rules were published in 1983. These rules give the guide-lines for the construction of sentences, paragraphs and the use of punctuation. In 1984 similar exercises took place to select nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.

When the study group had completed their research the AECMA simplified English version became a standard for the aerospace industry to use for all their technical documentation.

Simplified English had an earlier predecessor in the form of the limited word technical dictionary that was developed by McDonnell Douglas in 1979. The dictionary included 1,952 preferred words from the McDonnell Douglas technical manuals.

Prior to McDonnell Douglas the Caterpillar Tractor Company realised in 1971 that they had been struggling with the problems of communicating technical information to their non-English speaking distributors and customers. The company at the time had more than 20,000 publications that needed to be understood by people speaking a lot of different languages. Caterpillar Fundamental English, which was again a limited vocabulary was introduced. Caterpillar evaluated and rejected Basic English and Esperanto, because of their limited technical vocabularies, before deciding to develop Fundamental English.

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