Five simple ways to improve your technical English
When it comes to applying English grammatical theory to real life situations, you may lack confidence or feel that you are not communicating clearly. Here are five handy tips for communicating more effectively when using technical language at work.
1. Be concise
In English we prefer shorter sentences and in technical English this is even more important. The ideas we are trying to communicate are often complex and so we need the language to be as clear as possible to avoid confusion. To achieve this, use the simplest conjunctions where possible.
- ‘To access files, press ctrl’
- ‘Access files by pressing ctrl’
2. Be precise
When it comes to technical writing, accuracy is important. Eliminate any doubts by using the active voice so it is clear who is doing what.
- ‘The rising temperature increases the pressure in the machine’ (instead of ‘The pressure in the machine is increased’).
Use the passive only when you are certain it is obvious to any potential reader who the subject is, when it is stated in the text already, or when it does not matter.
- ‘The pressure in the machine increases and the plastic is forced through the tube.’
3. Consider your audience
Perhaps the people you are speaking with (or writing to) do not have the same level of technical knowledge as you, so make sure you have included an appropriate amount of background knowledge.
Make sure that any technical terms and acronyms are easily understood. Also consider whether your audience use a different measuring system to yours. For example, some British and American companies still use the Imperial system whereas most European companies use the metric system. You may need to specify which system you are using when working with measurements.
The same applies to dates and numbers. For example, with dates, using the example of the 1st of April 2009:
- British English - would be written as 01/04/2009 (day/month/year)
- American English - be written as 04/01/2009 (month/day/year)
Ordinary numbers can be confusing too. In British and American English we use a comma (,) for thousands, e.g. 9,000,000 (nine million); and a dot (.) to show a decimal place, eg 6.92% (six point nine two percent). This is different from the system in many other countries, where they use a comma for decimals and a dot for thousands.
4. Structure your explanation clearly
Use discourse markers. These are words that are used to connect, organise and manage what we say or write, such as anyway, right, to begin with. Here are some other examples:
- Order: firstly, secondly, next, after this, then, finally.
‘The offer should be confirmed next week; after this it should only take a couple of weeks to finalise the contract.’
- Result: consequently, therefore, as a result.
‘We needed extra cables and consequently spent more than we had planned.’
- Contrast: however, nevertheless, actually, nonetheless.
‘The project ran over-budget but we completed it nonetheless.’
Discourse markers help your readers and listeners follow what you say more easily.
5. Use technical translators
There is a wide range of resources that are available to translate tricky technical vocabulary, for example, the technical dictionary such as the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms.
There are also websites you might find useful, such as:
Finally, take an English course to improve your skills and confidence! Our English for Specific Purposes courses are tailored to your industry and profession, for example, banking & finance, insurance, HR, oil & gas, engineering, law, and aviation. On these courses, the content and vocabulary are customised for you and your employees to ensure the best outcomes.
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