The Global English Style Guide: a review

Review by Mike Unwalla.

John R Kohl, 2008. The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market. Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc. 310 pages including appendices and index. ISBN 978-1-59994-657-3.

Many people who speak English as a second language struggle to understand English texts. Human translation is expensive. Machine translation frequently does not give good translations. Global English offers a solution to these three related problems.

Many good style guides exist. Why do technical writers need one more style guide? Unlike other style guides, this book is about grammatical structures, not only particular terms. The book has more than 200 pages of text (plus 4 appendices) that give detailed explanations of both good practice and bad practice.

Kohl writes clearly, and he explains the reasons for the guidelines. The book is not an academic paper. The guidelines are based on practical work at SAS Institute, where Kohl works.

Most technical writers know some of the guidelines. For example, restrict the use of the passive voice, use language literally, and simplify the writing style. However, many guidelines will be new to some technical writers.

Usually, a conjunctive adverb can be in many locations in a sentence:

A conjunctive adverb helps to show a reader the logical connection with the previous sentence. Therefore, put a conjunctive adverb at the start of a sentence.

Both of the following sentences are grammatically correct:

However, Kohl explains that to increase consistency, to improve machine translation, and to help non-native speakers who do not know a particular verb, the parts of a phrasal verb must be together.

A full chapter and an appendix show how to improve readability and translatability by using syntactic cues. A syntactic cue is a part of language that helps a reader to identify parts of speech and to analyse the structure of a sentence. Sometimes, syntactic cues are optional, but a sentence that does not have syntactic cues can be ambiguous. Kohl gives a humorous example. The grammatically correct sentence, "Do not dip your bread or roll in your soup" has two interpretations:

If readers are aware of the second interpretation, they know that it is incorrect. However, with technical texts, if a writer does not include optional syntactic cues, a reader's interpretation is possibly incorrect.

With Global English, a writer can use all grammatical structures and all terms, unless the guidelines prohibit the grammar or the term. Additionally, the primary rule of Global English is, 'do not make any change that will sound unnatural to native speakers of English.' An alternative method for writing clear text is to use a controlled language. With a controlled language, a writer can use only grammar and terms that are permitted. Despite the different methods, many of the Global English guidelines agree with controlled language guidelines.

The subtitle of the book refers to writing documentation. However, most of the guidelines apply to copywriting as much as to technical writing. All writers who want to reach a global audience, to decrease the cost of translation, or to make their texts as clear as possible will benefit very much from this book.

To read the table of contents and the first chapter of the book, refer to http://support.sas.com/publishing/authors/kohl.html.

See also

Articles about language

GALA's interview with John Kohl (SAS) (www.gala-global.org/publications/interview-john-kohl-sas-0)

LISA best practice guide: implementing machine translation (www.mikedillinger.com/papers/MT_BPG2004.pdf)

Reviews of books that are about English for international readers

International English pages on the TechScribe website

Writing for people who do not read easily: workshop review

Term checker for Simplified Technical English (ASD-STE100), which has some rules from The Global English Style Guide

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