British English

Subject: British English
From: Ian White <ian -at- IFWTECH -dot- DEMON -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Sat, 9 Nov 1996 22:08:33 +0000

Yvonne Harrison wrote:

>Living in New Zealand I can assure you there are barely in differences
>between the British and American use of the language. The primary
>differences are:

>1) Spelling and use (e.g., colour/color, check book/cheque book)

Spelling differences are mostly trivial, and a British English spelling
checker will take care of most of them. There are other, more subtle
pitfalls, but they are all avoidable.

The best strategy is to aim for only ONE English-language manual,
because the best and clearest English is truly international. The way to
achieve this is to include non-American writers and editors in the team
from the beginning. (I'm available :-)

>2) Using 'you' in manuals is sometimes seen as being to direct and
>bordering on rude.

In general that's no longer true, though it does depend on the context.

>British manuals tend towards saying 'The user presses the
>enter key', rather than 'you press the enter key'.

Make that "The very worst of British manuals used to say..."

Simple, direct language such as "Press the enter key..." or "When you
press the enter key..." is completely acceptable in manuals for the
British market.

>3) More use of the passive voice.

More tolerance of the passive voice, certainly; and perhaps a more
balanced approach. I don't think that any British technical editor would
re-write a passage into the active voice as a matter of principle.

>And that's it. No big deal. And I'm sure the British are quite capable of
>reading American manuals, just as we in New Zealand and Australia
>are.

And just as we can also understand American spoken English much better
than most Americans can understand ours; but -

>After all the world has had to adjust to the American way of doing
>things, not the other way around.

I think Yvonne said that tongue-in-cheek... I hope so!

Ian White | IFW Technical Services, Abingdon, England
| Clear English for high-technology companies
| http://www.ifwtech.demon.co.uk


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