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TowardanInternationalEnglishStyle: 25EditorialImprovements 1

EdmondH.Weiss,Ph.D.
Communicationishardenoughwhenalltheparticipantsspeakandwritethesamenative language,ormothertongue.Butwhensomeofthepartiesarereadingintheirsecondorthird language,therisksofmisunderstandingriseexponentially. Englishisthefirstlanguageofabout400millionpeople(L1).Butthereareaboutanother750 millionwhospeakiteitherasasecondlanguage(L2),usuallyintheirbusinessorprofession,or asaforeignlanguage(L3),speakingorreadingonlyrarely,asneeded.Asdifficultasitisto communicateclear,unambiguousinformationtomembersofL1,itisevenmoredifficultto communicatewithmembersofL2whoreadandevaluateanincreasinglylargerproportionof ourproposalsandbusinessdocuments.AnditisstillmoredifficultwithmembersofL3. Often,thetacticsrequiredforthiskindofcommunicationmakeEnglishdocumentsless readableandlessinterestingtosophisticatedL1readers.Bytraditionalstandards,awell writteninternationalEnglishdocumentissometimesnotwellwritten.Thatis,although beingaskillfulwriterhelps,itisnotalwaysenough. Therearehundredsofsmall,precisetacticsforreducingtheriskinanInternationalEnglish transaction.Thosebelowdependfromtwobroad,relatedstrategiesforadaptingproposalsand reportsforL2andL3readers: First,reducetheburdenonthereader,ineverywaypossible,alwayschoosingthe simplerandmoredirectform,themoreaccessiblearrangement. Second,anticipatewhatwillhappenifthereaderneedstoconsultabilingualdictionary, choosingvocabularythatismostlikelytobedefinedthereinthewayyouintended.

1Foramoreextendeddiscussion,containingover50editorialtactics,seeEdmondWeiss,TheElementsof
InternationalEnglishStyle,M.E.Sharpe,2005

TWENTYFIVETACTICS
1. Adoptacontrolledvocabulary Manyfirmsthatwriteforaninternationalaudienceelecttocontrolthevocabularyand grammarintheirdocuments.UsingOgdensBasicEnglishasaninspiration,they developarestrictedvocabulary(10003000words)andlimitthenumberofpermissible sentencepatterns.Asinconvenient,evenchafing,asthismaybefortheprofessional communicator,itradicallyreducesontheburdenonL2andL3readers,andespecially ontranslators. Fullydevelopedcontrolledlanguages,likeSimplifiedEnglish 2 (usedinternationallyin theaircraftindustry),evenallowpersonswhospeakEnglishastheirsecondlanguageto writecorrect,reliablemanualsandinstructionsinEnglish. Shortofthisextreme,though,onemaymerelyadoptalimiteddictionary,suchasthe BeginnersDictionaryofAmericanEnglishUsage(Collin,Lowi,andWeiland,NTCPub Group,1994),anduseonlywordsthatappearinit. 2. Choosewordswithoneorfewmeanings Youwouldthinkthatshortfamiliarwordswouldbebestforinternational communication.Butoftensuchbasicverbsasmake,take,have,set,andotherscanhave scoresofcontextdependentmeanings.Internationalreaderswillhavetroublewithmake adifferenceversusmakeprogressversusmakesense.MyrelativelysmallGermanEnglish dictionary,forexample,offers6meaningsfortheEnglishfixand11meaningsformind. 3. Choosethemostcommonmeaningofwordswithmanymeanings DuringmyfirstEuropeanseminar,Iwasaskedrepeatedlyaboutmyuseoftheword address:asinaddressaproblem,addressanissue,tobeaddressedlaterThisusage mystifiedmyaudience. ItisextremelyusefultoacquirebilingualdictionariesforthemainlanguagesofyourL2 andL3readersandtocheckasampleofyournounsandverbs.Whenseveralmeanings oftheEnglishwordaregivenyoushouldeither Assurethatyouareusingthefirstorsecondmeaningcited

AECMA(AssociationEuropeenedeConstructeursdeMaterielAerospatial).AECMASimplified EnglishStandard.Brussels,Belgium:AECMADoc.PSC856598,IssueI,1995.


Changetoanotherwordwithfewermeanings Createaglossaryitem,explainingyourmeaning

Unfortunately,mostoftheworldsdictionariesstillhonorpolicyoflistingtheoldest meaningsofawordfirst,notmentioningthecurrentmeaningsuntiltheendoftheentry. So,thefirstthreeorfourdefinitionsmayberareorarchaic!Forsuchwords,find synonyms. 4.Avoidverbswithtwoorthreewordsinthem Whenpossible,replacetwowordverbslikelookatorcarryonwithexamineorcontinue. (Theverbresumewouldleadtoacomplicateddictionaryentry.)Alsoavoidthreeword verbslikeputupwithormakeafoolof;prefertolerateorembarrass. Ofcourse,ifwordsliketoleratedonotappearinthecontrolledvocabulary,youhaveto usetheotherform. 5. Usethesimplestverbforms Ifpossible,avoidtheemphaticandprogressiveEnglishtenses.Insteadofwewillbe arrivingpreferwewillarrive.InsteadofDoyouhave...preferHaveyou....(Some formsofcontrolledEnglishseverelyrestricttheuseofwordsendingining,becauseof theseveralproblemsassociatedwiththissuffix.) 6. Useindicativemoodandactivevoice Preferverbformsintheordertheyaregenerallylearnedbystudentsofforeign language:activebeforepassive,indicativebeforesubjunctive.Avoidithasbeen determinedthatandespeciallyshoulditbedeterminedthat. 7. Defineallspecialtermsinaglossary InternationalEnglishdocumentsshouldgenerallyincludeaglossaryofallcoined,new, difficult,technical,orotherwiseriskyterms.Thosewhowritewithacontrolled vocabularymustdefineanytermnotinthatwordlist.Anywordintheglossaryshould behighlightedinthetext,throughsomespecialtypographyorcolor. Theusualwayofpresentingglossariesisasanattachmentorappendix.Moreusefulisa dynamicglossarythatdefinesthedifficulttermsinafootnoteareaatthebottomofeach page(orattheendofeachtwopagespread). 8. Choosewordsthatarepronounceable


Rememberthatnearlyallreaderssubvocalize,sayingwordsmentallytothemselvesas theyreadsilently.So,wordsthatarehardtopronouncewillslowthereader.This adviceisparticularlygermaneinnamingproducts,systems,orcompanies.Nearlyevery L2andL3hastroublewiththethsound(especiallyunvoiced)andmanyAsian languagesstrugglewithlandr.WhenGeneralInstrumentCorporationofHorsham, Pennsylvania,changedtheirimagein1996theyalsoadoptedthemorehightech soundingnameofNextLevel.In1998theywillrestoretheoriginalname,mainly becausemostoftheirAsiancustomersforcableTVconverterboxeshavetroublewith sayingNextLevel.(Similarly,thespokesclownforMcDonaldsrestaurantsinJapanis calledDonaldMcDonaldnotRonald.) 9. Donotcoinwordsthatarenotneeded Beforecoiningorinventinganewword,besurethatthereisnotalreadyasuitable Englishwordthatmeanswhatyouwanttosay.Donotwriteprioritizeforrankordeselect forreject.Donotusecomputerorbusinessjargonwhereordinarywordswillwork.Do notwriteinterfaceformeetorvisioningprocessforplanning. Ifyoumustcoinaword,besurethatitdoesnotalreadyhaveameaningofitsown.One ofmyclientsdecidedthatthewordactionablemeanspracticalorfeasibleandusedthe wordinallhisproposals.Unfortunately,thewordactionablealreadyhasawidelyused dictionarymeaning:justcauseforalawsuit. 10. Avoidprolixexpressionsfortime,place,andrelationship Businessandtechnicaldocumentsarenevermorelongwindedandwordythanin expressingsimplemattersoftime,space,distance,orsequence.Atthispointintimeis oneof50longwindedwaystosaynoworcurrently.Wholevolumesofthese replacementsareinprint,andmanyareincorporatedintothegrammarchecking programsofwordprocessors.Justafew: Insteadof Use threemonthintervaloftime threemonths locatedtothenorthof northof 300squaremetersofarea 300squaremeters pasthistory history midwaybetween between bymeansoftheutilizationof with inregardto about,regarding visibletotheeye visible


11. Avoidnominalizations Whenthetextcontainsmanywordsendingintion,usuallytherearetoomany nominalizations,orverbsconvertedtonouns.Thesestructuressometimescalled smotheredverbsnotonlylengthenandcomplicateasentencebutalsoproduce confusingdictionaryresults.ForthebenefitofL2andL3readers,itisbestto Replace With furnishanexplanation explain profferaninvitationto invite performtheinstallationof install conductaninspectionof inspect reachaconclusion conclude raiseanobjectionregarding objectto accomplishlinkagewith link implementaseparationbetween separate Usestandardgrammar Anativespeakerwillmakeallowancesfordanglingconstructionsandmisplaced modifiers.ButanL2orL3maybebaffled.RememberthatEnglishisoneofthe uninflectedlanguages,relyingmoreonwordorderthanongrammaticallymeaningful wordendings.(Infact,oneofthefewEnglishinflectionswhoversuswhomistoohard fortheaverageAmericanspeakertolearn.) TointernationalizeyourEnglish,then,beespeciallywaryoflooselyconnected (dangling)phrasesateitherthebeginningorendofasentence.InsteadofToensurea widemarket,ISO9000registrationwillbeincludedintheplan.WriteToensurea widemarket,weshallincludeISO9000registrationintheplan. Alsobecarefulwiththeplacementofmodifiers.InsteadofTheinspectorswillonly leavethesiteafterallfivetestswriteTheinspectorswillleavethesiteonlyafterall fivetestsorTheinspectorswillstayonsiteuntilthelasttestisrun.(NOTE:Several languageshavedifficultytranslatinguntil.) L2readersarelikelytohavebeendrilledinschoolonthedifferencesbetweenlikeandas, theproperformofeffectandaffect,theconjugationoftheverbslieandlayandother

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trickypartsofeverydayEnglish.TheleastthatL1writerscandoisgettheirown grammarright! 13. Formwordsinstandardways Becautiousofinvalidformationslikeadministrate(foradminister)andorientate(for orient).Refrainfromverbingnouns(eventhoughthatswheremanyEnglishverbs comefrom)andresistthetemptationtoformimpossiblewordslikeimpactful. Justthisweek,aclienttoldmethathiscompanyhadbeencubicled! BewareoftheseveralEnglishes RememberthatthereismorethanonewaytospellandpunctuateEnglishandthereare evendifferencesingrammarandmeaningaswechangefromoneEnglishspeaking countrytoanother.Americansusecompanyasasingular,theBritishasaplural. Americansputallcommasandperiodsinsideclosingquotationmarks;theBritishonly some.TheverbtotablehasoppositemeaningsinAmerica(postpone)andEngland(take upatonce). Again,itisusefultoacquirethedictionariesandlanguageguidesusedinyourtarget countries.MostFrenchorChinesereaders,forexample,willhavelearnedEnglishfrom Britishteachersandtexts;Americanwritersmaywanttoadjustsomeconventions. Avoidillogicalorarbitraryidioms Englishisfilledwithoddconstructionsthatconfoundthedictionaryuser.Eventhemost austeretechnicalpublicationscontainphrasesthat,oncloserexamination,provetobe unnecessarilyhardtounderstandortranslate.What,forexample,willtheinternational readerinterpretinthephraserunarisk?Orloseground?Orbideonestime? InEnglish,forexample, haveafewthingsincommon =issimilarto havefewthingsincommon =isdissimilarfrom Intheintroductiontothisarticle,Ifoundmyselfwritingopportunitiesfor misunderstanding,butrealizedthat,forL2andL3,theinterpretationofopportunityinthis phraseisitselfanopportunityformisunderstanding.

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16. Avoidfigurativelanguage,especiallysportsandmilitaryimages Muchofwhatgivesmature,idiomaticEnglishitscolorandflavorfigures,allusions, idiomaticexpressionsisaproblemforL2andL3 Forexample,NorthAmericanbusinessandtechnicalwritingisoverlyfondofsports andmilitarytermsmostofwhichtranslateverybadly.Bewaryoftargets,missions, objectives,taskforces,strategies,gameplans,teamapproaches,fullcourtpresses,goingon offense,andkeyingonthecompetition;resistthetemptationtostrikeat,tackle,blitz,check, huddlewith,orblast. Toillustrate,manybusinesspeopleusethetermbailouttomeanabandonaproject, usingtheimageofaparachutist;sometimestheyshortenthisjusttobail,asinWe decidedtobail.Atthesametime,otherbusinesswritersusebailouttomeanrescuean endangeredcompany,usingthenauticalsenseoftheterm;thisistheunderstandingof theexpressiongovernmentbailout.Bailalsohasatechnicalmeaninginthelaw,as wellasinBritishsports.Inshort,itisadangerouslyconfusingtermtouseinan internationaldocument.(Welloverlooktheconfusionwithbale.) Allfigurativelanguageispotentiallyobscure.Itisbettertobeeagerthankeen,intelligent ratherthansharp,fashionableinsteadofhot.Literaryallusions(likethebetterpartof valour)willprobablybelost,aswillproverbs(thelaststraw). Ingeneral,clichesthatusefigurativelanguagewillmystifythereader.Proposalsand reportsprobablyshouldbefreeofsuchexpressionsasbetweenarockandahardplaceor slippedthroughthecracksorthemorethemerrier.Andwhensuchexpressionsareused, theyshouldbeusedcorrectly:batedbreathnotbaitedbreath. Avoidregionalismsandslang Asidefromtheobviouslyinappropriateregionalslangexpression(likethatdogwont hunt),therearealsosubtlerregionalismsthatmayfindtheirwaysintoformalbusiness writing.Forexample,certainregionsoftheUSandUKusetheverbreckontomean assessorappraise;itwilltranslatepoorly.WritersfromNewYorkoftenusethe expressionkindofforsomewhat.BritishandCanadianwriterswillbeginsentenceswith mindyouinsteadofofcourse.Americanswilloverusebasicallyinmuchthewaythat Britishwilloveruseactually;inmostcasesthesewordscanberemovedwithoutlossof meaning. Avoidsarcasm,humor,wit,orirony

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Unfortunately,nearlyallformsofwordplay,cleverness,orliteraryallusionwilldistract ormisleadtheinternationalreader.Andalthoughthereisusuallyrelativelylittleofsuch materialinformalproposalsandreports,itoftencreeps(unfortunatefigure)into correspondenceandshortmessages. Sarcasmisbaffling.Ioncemadethemistakeofwriting:Thereisnodocumentationfor thetelephonesystem.Fortunately,itsnotusedforanyimportantmessages.Andmy readertookmeliterally. Sneeringwithquotationmarksdoesnottranslate:Wereadyourlongrangeplan. Andthemostdangerousdeviceofallistakinganalreadyobscureclichandalteringit forhumorouseffect:betweenarockandalawsuit,skippedthroughthecracks,themore themessier, 19. Prefersimplesentences Unfortunately,complexandcomplexcompoundsentencesarefarmoredifficultto understandthansimpleandcompoundsentences.Isayunfortunatelybecauseashard asitistowriteanengaginganalysis,conclusion,orrecommendationwithoutfigures andidioms,itisextremelydifficultwritegenuinelythoughtfulorinterestingpassages withoutanoccasionalcomplexsentence. AproposalorreportwrittenforanL2audiencewillalmostcertainlysoundchoppyand abitunsophisticatedtoL1readers.Thesentenceswillbeshorter;therewillbemuchless subordinationandthereforemuchmorerepetitionofkeynouns;nearlyallsentences willbeginwiththesubject.(Infact,itwillresemblethedullwritingoftypical undergraduates.) Aspowerful,then,assentencesstartingwithiforalthoughmaybeinmostprofessional writing,therewillbeveryfewofthemininternationaldocuments.Again,bytraditional standards,awellwritteninternationalEnglishdocumentisnotalwayswellwritten. Useoptionalwords CertainoptionalwordsinEnglishmakethelogicofasentencemuchclearer. Internationalreaderswillhaveaneasiertimewithsentencesthatincludetheseextra words. Themostusefulcaseistheoptionalthat,asinWepredictthatthecostwillnot change.

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Itisalsousefultorepeatwordsthataresometimesomittedinpairs,asinTheteamwill bereadytostartworkandtowritethefirstreportbyDecember1. Anditissafertorepeatnounsthantopointatthemwithpronounslikethisorthese; preferthisXorthatY. 21. Punctuateaggressively TherearetwomainstylesofpunctuationinAmerica:thelean,sparemethodof journalistsandcopywritersversusthecommarichstyleofscientistsandacademics. Ifanything,Englishforinternationalaudiencesshouldbeoverpunctuated,usingevery optionalcommaandputtinghyphensintowordsthatwouldnotordinarilyrequire them.Insteadof AsusualtheCanadian,MexicanandGuatemalansubcommitteeswerethefirst toreport. Write Asusual,theCanadian,Mexican,andGuatemalansubcommitteeswerethefirst toreport. Usemoreaccessiblelayout Unlessadvisedotherwise,uselotsofwhitespace.A4or5inchcolumnoftextisfar morelikelytobereadwithunderstandingthana6or7inchcolumn.Preferreadable, proportionaltypefaceswithgoodxheights.(TheTimesNewRomanfontisagood choiceforelectronicallyshareddocuments,becausenearlyeveryonehasit.Butitisfar fromthemostreadabletypeface.) Totheextentpossible,reduceGOTOs(sendingreaderstootherpages)inthetext,being mindfulofwherepagesbreakandalwaystryingtoputfiguresandexhibitseitherclose totheirmentioninthetextpreferablythesamepageoronafacingpage.

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Preferliststoparagraphs Longsentencesandparagraphsintimidateallreaders,andespeciallyL2andL3.When proposalsorreportscontainitemsorstepsinaprocessthematerialisfarmore understandableinlistform.


Insteadof Inevaluatingalternativeofferors,pleaseconsiderthatourcompanyhas15years experienceintheconstructionofoilandgaspipelines.Weholdthepatentson themostadvancedpumpingtechnology.Further,wemaintainbusinessoffices inallthemajorMiddleEasterncapitals. Write Inevaluatingalternativeofferors,pleaseconsiderthatourcompany Has15yearsexperienceintheconstructionofoilandgaspipelines Holdsthepatentsonthemostadvancedpumpingtechnology MaintainsbusinessofficesinallthemajorMiddleEasterncapitals. Prefertablestoprose Inmostcultures,asimpletablewillbefareasiertofollowthataparagraph. Insteadof NewusersshouldopentheMaintenanceMenuandselectSetup.Also,oldusersmay selectSetupfromtheMaintenanceMenuiftheywanttochangetheirPreferences.Old userswhodontwanttochangetheirsetupinanywayshouldgototheFilemenuand selecteitherNeworOpen(forexistingfile). Prefer: User Menu Select... NewUser Maintenance Setup UserWantingtoChangePreferences Maintenance Setup OtherUsers File New(newfile)OR Open(existingfile)

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25. Beextremelypolite Americanbusinesscommunicationtendstobemoreinformalthanthatinother countries.Internationaldocumentswilltravelbetteriftheyarepoliteandformal:no firstnames,nocontractions,nononstandardspellingorpunctuation...Avoidtheeasy intimacythatisanAmericanculturaltrait. AdaptingtoLocalCultures Generally,thetacticsabovearemeanttoremoveburdens,distractionsanddifficulties frominternationalproposalsandreports.Butnodocumentisreallyreadyforforeign readersuntilithasbeenreviewedbysomeoneRichardBrislin 3 callsthecultural informantarepresentativeoftheintendednationorcommunity,apersonwhocan alertthewritersnotonlytominorerrorsandomissionsinthetacticsabove,butalsoto subtleandimportantculturalissues. Ultimately,editingadocumentforeaseandclarity,removingitsunnecessarydifficulties andculturalpeculiarities,ismucheasierthanadaptingittolocalexpectations,adding elementsthatwillmakeitmorefamiliar,meaningful,andengagingtoyourreaders. (NancyHoft 4 callsthisradicallocalization.) Theeffortneededtoresearchthecultureofourreaders,aswellasthecostofacquiring culturalinformants,mayseemhighatfirst.Butinaworldofglobalcommerce,itisa soundinvestment.

UnderstandingCulturesInfluenceonBehavior,NewYork;HarcourtBrace,1993,Chapter7 InternationalTechnicalCommunication,NewYork;Wiley,1995,Chapter2