Write the Docs: Maxwell Hoffmann – Say more with less: writing for a global audience

I’m at Write the Docs today in Portland and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Maxwell works at Adobe as a product evangelist. He’s spent 12 years in translation and localization with more than 20 years working in traditional technical documentation.

We’ve come full circle in terms of our hand-held devices. We’ve gone from cuneiform tablets to scrolls to desktop computers and now back to hand-held smartphones. This means our content must be in shorter pieces, faster to load, and easier to scan.

The biggest barrier to good translation in Maxwell’s mind is poor English. The more complex the language, the harder the translation. Simplifying your docs and your language simplifies your translation. For hand-held devices this helps as simplified English by as much as 30%. We can all benefit from writing simplified English.

Maxwell covered the 10 rules for writing ASD-STE 100 simplified English. This has 10 key values:

  1. Write positive statements.
  2. Write short sentences.
  3. Use one topic per sentence.
  4. Use valid nomenclature.
  5. Write simple sentences.
  6. Use the active voice.
  7. Do not use gerunds (-ing words).
  8. Avoid conditional tenses.
  9. Avoid word clusters.
  10. Use valid nomenclature & abbreviations.

To work on these rules try writing an outline on a typewriter. With this you can only write; there are no distractions. There’s no editing or formatting. You will feel and write differently. Or, if typewriters aren’t you thing, you can break long sentence writing patterns by dictating your writing.