write for translation… even if you’re not going to translate

Why? Because writing for ESL and writing for translation makes for good technical writing, regardless of whether we have ESL readers or expect the documents to be translated. It makes writing more straightforward, consistent, predictable, and succinct.

In particular:

  • Use simple sentence constructions of subject-verb-object.
  • Use the active voice. The passive voice, although appropriate sometimes, can introduce ambiguity.
  • Use pronouns clearly so that the antecedent is clear.
  • Avoid turning verbs into nouns (nominalization).
  • Avoid phrasal and modal verbs. Phrasal verbs have two or more words. Choose a one-word verb that says the same thing. Modal verbs express the mood of the main verb (“should,” “could,” “can,” “would,” “might,” and “may”). Use these when there is no other way to make these subtle distinctions. Certainly avoid using both phrasal and modal verbs together.
  • Avoid noun strings (more than one adjective).
  • Use positive language: avoid negative constructions.
  • Choose one term for a concept and use it consistently.
  • Do not omit articles and prepositions when they help to clarify the meaning.
  • Avoid wordiness: keep sentence length under 20 words.

Examples
Before:
To ensure synchronization (nominalization) between the two (redundant) controller cards is maintained (passive), the operating system occasionally performs an automatic reload of (nominalization) the standby controller card. To facilitate the automatic reload (repetitive, nominalization) of an controller card, the auto-boot? variable must be set (passive) to true. [40 words]

After:
To synchronize the controller cards, the operating system occasionally reloads the standby controller card. To enable this process, set the auto-boot? variable to true. [25 words]

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