Every profession has its standards and recommendations. Technical writing and illustration is no exception. Our standards represent best practices based on years of development in publication design and organization, content models, and standards for writing effectively for our audience. Standards give us a clear path to walk when we deal with complex subjects. Aviation is a complex subject.
The iSpec-2200 Information Standard
The iSpec-2200 provides design and content guidelines for the manuals we write. Originally issued in 1956 as the ATA Specification 100, the standard represents the efforts of industry experts who came together with the goal to establishing recommendations to standardized the content models and format requirements for aviation manuals. The ATA-100 and ATA-2100 were merged in 2000 and released as the Information Specification 2200 (iSpec-2200). The iSpec is a digital manual available for purchase from Airlines for America (A4A, formerly the Air Transportation Authority), and it is pricey. As a design reference, it is indispensable. For engineers, it’s just another large reference manual. You will need to understand the numbering system and conventions defined in the iSpec. All aviation OEMs and certification agents have adopted this system world-wide. Your designs will have a classification within that numbering system, and your drawings should reflect those numbers somewhere in the title block or in the document numbering scheme you employ. The numbering system can be purchased separately as an excerpt.
The iSpec-2200 is “only” a recommendation, but if you think you’ve got a better idea for manual design and content, you better think again. The FAA isn’t real keen on “original ideas” with regard to manuals. Also, your DER will need to approve your documents, and DERs aren’t usually known for “flexibility” where ICAW is concerned.
The ASD-STE100 Standard
The ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Standard came into being as the AECMA Simplified English Standard in 1986. This standard addresses two basic issues with the English language in the context of technical documentation. The first issue is that English is huge and difficult to learn; we’ve got over a half million words in our language (Spanish and Italian, by contrast, each have about 45 thousand). The second issue is that English is the language of aviation, so everyone needs to use it. The ASD-STE100 addresses both of these issues by constraining the language, both in the size of the vocabulary, and in the grammatical function of the approved words. The standard adopts about 250 words, and each word is assigned a single specific meaning and grammatical function. These are the words we use when ambiguity and misunderstandings simply cannot be tolerated. Maintenance procedures (time and resources), Warnings (people get killed), and Cautions (airplanes get damaged) are all mandated for SE language. Unambiguous communication is the goal of SE text regardless of the proficiency level of the reader. SE is designed to be a “common denominator” language. It also lends itself well to the process of machine translation.
It is important to note that language comes up often in the revision and review processes of technical manuals. It’s not uncommon for engineers and technicians who were involved in the initial development of procedures to wonder where their text went. The short answer is that your procedures may (read usually) get a re-write to comply with standards. If you are writing to other engineers, or technicians, or to us, we don’t have a problem understanding you. Native speakers generally don’t have problems sorting through meaning in context. Non-native speakers do, and the results can be disasterous. Comply with standards, avoid the issue.
The ASD-STE100 is owned and maintained by the ASD (Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe) in Brussels, Belgium, and they give it a look annually to incorporate changes. This standard used to cost $400, but it’s free for the asking these days. Send the ASD a nice e-mail and they’ll send you a download link to the file. We encourage all of our clients to download and review this standard. In general, we find that knowledgeable people make the best clients.
ASME Y14.38 Acronyms and Abbreviations
In aviation, government, and the military, we swim in acronyms. They are a fact of life (and the source of some good humor). We get comfortable with strings of capital letters that have meaning only in a limited context. They serve a purpose, and as long as we know that purpose, and understand the context, acronyms are a cure for a big problem in technical writing...too many words.
If you have created a product with unique attributes and features, or with proprietary components, then you have the absolute right to create your own acronyms to describe those items. But there are rules...
We define the acronym on first use in every stand-alone section of the manual. We are consistent in describing the parts associated with that acronym...one acronym, one part (or system). We never create new acronyms for common parts that already have an acronym. It is the technical writer’s duty not to expand the universe of acronyms without good cause, lest our “cure” become another problem...too many acronyms.
If you’re in doubt and think you’d like to coin an acronym, check with the ASME Y14.38 first. If it’s not there, and it’s essential to describing your design, well, the world is waiting.
The ASME Y14.38 is the standard though, and we abide by the conventions and terms listed therein. You may see references to the MIL-STD 12D, which was in use prior to 1998, but Y14.38 superseded that document. You can still find the MIL-STD 12D on the web, but you’re miles ahead using the current standard. Everyone else does.
The GPO 2000 Style Guide
The Government Printing Office is the custodian and approval authority for the style guide used by the U.S. Government and the organizations and entities that work within and for the government. The GPO 2000 has been adopted for use by the aviation industry, and that makes good sense seeing that aviation is regulated by the DOT.
Many other excellent style guides are in common use. Don't use them. When you are doing work that will be approved by the FAA, use their standards. It's an apples-to-apples thing.
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Current Ed.)
Specifying a dictionary may seem to be over-kill, but in a world where precise language is a primary consideration it's best to use the same definitions. We all have better things to do than wrangle over semantics and etymological distinctions. Consider the GPO Style Guide and Webster's a matched set, and move on.