Off-topic : Techwriting styles ? -- A summary

Subject: Off-topic : Techwriting styles ? -- A summary
From: Solena -dot- LEMOIGNE -at- fr -dot- thalesgroup -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 10:44:21 +0200

Many thanks to

Grace Abenhaim - France Baril - Theresa Freese - Nathalie Granier - Etienne
Grosjean - Sean Hower - Manu Kumar - Helen Stergius

Who have taken the time to share their thoughts with me. I will not quote
each of you personnaly, but rather present a mix of the ideas you expressed.
You'll recognise your own.

-- Background --
French native speakers working in english-speaking environments, English
native speakers tumbling on work that requires french translation, Indian
native having studied in English, language maniacs who have studied a *lot*
of languages.

-- Recurrent comments --
It takes time to find a certain ease in writing. One needs time to adapt to
the company rules, the customer tastes (which take a while to show up) and
the confidence in one's vocabulary and technical expertise.
Human factors seem to play a big role.
- the language one has been raised in, since language shapes the way people
formulate ideas about what's around them.
- one's original culture and that of the country for whom the document is
- the context of practice of each language (for multilingual people) and the
amount of practice, obviously.

-- Language factors --
People were quite coherent about language factors: it takes more words to
express the same instruction (say) in French than in English. The usual text
expansion rate goes from 20 to 30 % from English to French. Main causes are:
word length, the fact that one can do without a few words in English (the,
that, of), the preciseness of the language (french terms tend to be less
precise, hence requiring more details).

Since a technology can have been developed by people who use another
language to shape ideas and other frameworks of thought, when the technology
moves to other audiences, the vocabulary and concepts have to adapt, whether
they are re-created or altered to suit the tastes of the target language.
Hence a linguistic system can be very coherent in a given language and sound
like lace looks in another language.
(For french speakers, I have stumbled accross an archive of the dictionary
that M. Toubon had set up. It is absurdly hilarious. Google for it [3 words,
11 characters]. Cherchez-le avec Google [4 mots, 21 lettres]...)

-- Personal style --
All are in fanatic favour of minimalistic style, clear and concise texts.
This should be a good asset in the technical area, wherever one works on
this planet.

-- Conclusion --
Yes, it looks harder to reach the same level of conciseness in French than
in English. French-speaking people expect much more details. Ease of
expression in a given language varies accordingly to the amount and the
quality of practice in this language. It does not matter if that's the one
you have been brought up in, or if that's the one you took at university.
Developing a clear style and being able to carry it to various audiences and
through different languages is a real asset.

Well, I'll just give myself a bit more time before being really happy with
what I write.

Solena Le Moigne
Rédactrice Technique
Thales Communications - Cholet
solena -dot- lemoigne -at- fr -dot- thalesgroup -dot- com


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