RE: American Technical Writing Style?

Subject: RE: American Technical Writing Style?
From: Emily Cotlier <Emily -dot- Cotlier -at- zeacom -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 10:31:37 +1300

Cedric Simard [mailto:cedricns -at- hotmail -dot- com] asked:
> - Are there other aspects not mentioned in the above list that are of
> crucial importance for an American readership?
> - When planning for internationalization, is it important to
> keep two sets
> of documents: one targeted for the American market, and
> another one target
> for an international audience?
> - How does an average American reader react when he reads a technical
> document written in British English? Can this aspect be of
> prime importance
> for business issues?

I'm an American technical writer working in New Zealand for a New Zealand
software company that recently began expanding into the US. We create
software for call center technology. In the USA, our user base is a good
cross-section of average Americans. People read the words in our manuals,
and they also look at dates, phone numbers, etc. in our screen shots and
using our product.

Our experience is that the American market doesn't like British
spelling--for example, if I was to refer to a "call center" as a "call
centre" in an American-market manual, they'd tell me it was misspelled. The
American readers also go bananas if they see dates in British format
(day/month/year) instead of American format (month/day/year). And they hate
looking at international-format phone numbers unless they absolutely have
to. They see the differences, and they either don't like them or don't
understand them.

We maintain separate sets of documents for the American market and for the
British/AU/NZ market. I've constructed the online help so that these
international differences are minimalized, and when in doubt, we go with the
American formats.

Another difference I've noted is that American readers are less willing to
spend time reading a manual than British/AU/NZ readers; Americans want it at
a lower reading level, and they want it highly accessible. (This actually
caused some substantial office politics problems for me--long story.) I'd
like to clarify IMMEDIATELY that this doesn't mean the Americans are dumber
than the British/AU/NZ readers. It just means that they have different
expectations of manuals. As an American abroad, I find that British/AU/NZ
business writing in general is more verbose than the American equivalent,
and the readers are used to it.

One last important difference between the US and British/AU/NZ markets is
the paper size of your manuals and PDF files. For the US, we size everything
for Letter size paper, the American standard. For the British/AU/NZ markets,
we size everything in A4 format. It's a little thing that has a big impact
on the final product for our printed manuals.

Hope that helps,

Emily Cotlier

Announcing new options for IPCC 01, October 24-27 in Santa Fe.
Attend the entire event, select a single day, or sign up for
a Saturday postconference workshop.

Your monthly sponsorship message here reaches more than
5000 technical writers, providing 2,500,000+ monthly impressions.
Contact Eric (ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com) for details and availability.

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as: archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
Next by Author: WebHelp Display Problem
Previous by Thread: Re: American Technical Writing Style?
Next by Thread: RE: How to document multiple user roles? (take III)

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads