English and Formality for Tech Docs in Non-North American Markets

Subject: English and Formality for Tech Docs in Non-North American Markets
From: Candace Bamber <kingfish!bamberc -at- SX -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 17 Mar 1996 11:42:00 -0500

Hello All,

A year or so ago (as a freelancer) I entered the international market and
discovered that the level of formality considered appropriate for procedures
and other technical documents appears to vary from country to country.

I was working on a project for a British company, who sent me home to
rewrite all my procedures in a much more formal construction ("the operator
shall turn...") than my original offering ("Turn the..."). On a second
contract in Britain I asked what was preferred, and they also indicated that
they preferred the more formal approach.

I realize that a two-company survey is hardly conclusive - which is while
I'm opening up this discussion. I've become a captive employee lately
(happily!), and my company has catapulted into the international market.
The tech docs team here is stretched to the limit and one of the ways we're
(barely) staying in control of our workload is by doing things right the
first time. We're in South America, Europe and New Zealand at the moment (as
well as Canada and the US). We produce English documentation (some of which
gets translated, but we have that issue under control).

I am hoping to hear from TCs who have experience producing documents in
English for companies and governments outside North America, who can shed
some light on some of the (cultural?) differences in common usage (as
opposed to grammatical rules) and standards for English, especially relating
to procedure writing and the level of formality appropriately used for
different audiences (end users, system administrators, management, the
public, etc). We also have questions about using the second person. If
there's a New Zealander out there in TW-land, I would appreciate hearing
from you, but this is a general survey.

I'm aware that this is a rather vague question - I'm hoping to be able to
refine it a little once I'm a little more educated around the issue. We want
to provide "good docs" that our customers are happy with - not impose North
American standards because they happen to be what WE'RE used to.

Thanks!

Candace

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Candace Bamber
bamberc -at- SX -dot- com
Documentation and Training Group
Systems Xcellence
555 Industrial Drive
Milton Ontario

Whatever you can do or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and
magic in it.
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