Over the last 15 years I’ve interacted extensively with students and professionals from all around India and have noticed a number of common English grammar issues both in verbal and written communications. These forms and patterns of expression while normal and well understood in India violate English grammar rules.
I was recently involved in a program at a US based client where the primary delivery item was documentation (+2,000 pages). As the project progressed the client became increasingly unhappy and hostile towards our team’s work because of the readability of the documents. This started a negative spiral; the client’s unhappiness and frustration with the language led to a reduced desire on their part to participate in document reviews which put the project behind schedule. The primarily India based team was asked to work harder and produce additional documents more quickly. These were also difficult to read and more so because they were produced under stress.
In the end through a lot of hard work on everyone’s part we were able to complete the documents and somewhat ameliorate the customers attitude. The project acted as a catalyst for me to write the following guide to improving English. The language problems encountered in the project are not unique. Similar problems can be found even on this and other Indian website and in our email exchanges.
One of the challenges in writing correct English in India is that engineers are immersed in a world where the normal forms of communication regularly violate English grammar rules. Here I am pointing out some common mistakes that we all make inadvertently and how to rectify them--
Common problematic phrases and preferred alternatives
- “Detail out”, “Details”; use describe, identify, …
- “is not matching”; use “does not match”
- “it is recommend to xxx”; use “it is recommended that”
- “can be referred from”; use “may be found in”, “is located in”, …
- “information like”; use “information such as”
- “comprises of the” or “comprises the”; use either “is composed of” or “consists of”.
- “explains on”; use “describes” or “explains” depending on context.
- “basis”; use “based upon”
- “huge”; this is often used to describe file sizes but should generally not be used as it is associated with overly dramatic statements. “Large” is a better word but it is probably best to give a specific definition of the size such as “files larger than 1GB”.
- “for e.g.”, use either “for example, …” or “e.g.” “E.g.” itself means “for example” so the term “for e.g.” is redundant.
- “updation”; this is not a word, use update or updated as appropriate.
- “revert” use “please reply” or “please provide an update.” “Revert” means “to return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.” Using “revert” as a request to reply to an e-mail or a request for information is inconsistent with this definition. Please note although revert is frequently used incorrectly in India this does not make it correct.
- Use “feedback” instead of “feedbacks”.
- Use “please do what is required” instead of “do the needful”. “Please do the needful” is often the only remark in forwarded e-mails. We should be more specific as to what action(s) we want the reader to take and by when (sometimes it is not obvious).
- Use “lessons” or “knowledge” instead of learning(s). Avoid using the word learning or learnings in the context of lessons.
Incorrect usage: No data migration would be required for the process that is being implemented.
Use click instead of click on.
Correct usage: Click the OK button or Click OK.
Incorrect usage: Click on the OK button.
Note, a good rule of thumb is to try and avoid the repetition of a word within the next three lines.
Overused buzzwords: key, leverage, …
“MS Word” Tips
- Be sure to create a standard Word template that meets your requirements at the outset of each project. This will ensure that all documents have a consistent look and feel.
- When the first row of a table is used as a header it should be set to repeat if the table crosses page boundaries (select row, click on format -> table properties -> rows -> select repeat row as header on the top of each page) AND the paragraph attribute “Keep with Next” should be set for the header contents (that way you don’t end up with only the header on the bottom of a page).
- Blank lines should not be used to create white space between paragraphs and graphics, use paragraph spacing / styles instead.
- Graphics are frequently scaled disproportionately (i.e. height is 80%, and width is 50% of the original size) making any text in them hard to read as well as distorting the images.
- Sentences are too long. Keep sentence length to an average of 15 to 20 words. Longer sentences are generally harder to read.
- Frequent shifts from 3rd person (he/she/it/they) to 1st (I/we) and 2nd (you) person. Technical documents should generally be written in 3rd person (he/she/it/they) with very few, if any, exceptions.
- Incorrect capitalization: Proper nouns and the first word of a sentence should be capitalized. A proper noun is a specific name of a place, a person, or a thing. The first letter of a proper noun is always represented by a capital letter. Examples include:
– Names of companies (Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, …)
– Names of people (John, Mary, Mr. Lee, Tom Jones, …)
– Names of places (Greentown Hospital, City Park, …)
– Title of a person (Dr. Kenny White, President Jimmy Ayusso, Ms. Miri Thomas)
– Names of books, newspapers, plays, … (The New York times, War and Peace, …)
- Improper use of articles such as “a”, “an”, and “the” (often they are either missing or placed where they are not needed. Below are a couple of examples:
“This was at heart of the discussion that XXX had with the HR team few months back …” should be “was at the heart of the discussion XXX had with the HR team a few months back”.
- Use active (he subject of the sentence acts upon something or someone) rather than passive voice (the subject is acted upon). Active voice is usually the correct choice. It is considered to be more powerful and straightforward whereas passive voice often leads to long and confusing sentences. Examples:
Passive: My first visit to Mysore will always be remembered by me.
- Avoid using colloquialisms as they are easy to get wrong. For example, the phrase “in a nutshell” meaning to encapsulate into a small package was written as “on a nutshell” in a deliverable. Aside from adding humor to the readers experience it does detract from the message and diminishes the author.
“Customers are faced with multiple challenges every now and then. The challenge could be of deriving maximum value from the existing IT investments, or moving beyond incident management, supporting a re-engineered or evolving business model, or leveraging technology to create new business models.”
The first sentence is a weak and factually incorrect statement. Customers regularly face multiple challenges. The 2nd sentence is nearly double the length it should be and includes incorrect grammar (e.g. “could be of”).
A better version is:
“Our customers face multiple business challenges. These include:
– Improving the ROI on IT investments
– Moving from incident management to a proactive management approach
– Supporting a re-engineered or evolving business
– The need to use existing IT infrastructure (systems and application) to support new business models.”
Although the above is better, from a written English perspective, I’m sure it could be improved from the standpoint of having the IT challenges more clearly tied to business challenges (customer satisfaction, improved profitability …).
“This section explains on the activities performed for migration …” can be better expressed using the following “This section describes the steps required to migrate … “
“Develop this document by following the design guidelines and in line with the Architecture and the High Level Design Document.”
The clause following the first “and” is not a complete sentence. It would be better written as follows:
“This document should clearly conform to the design guidelines established by the ICC. The contents should also be aligned with the Architecture and High Level Design documents for the project.”
“Testing shall be resumed once all the defects agreed are fixed and application is stable. Testing shall be resumed as new repeat test cycle or repeat only the impacted test cases.”
The clause “resumed as new report test cycle” creates confusion. How do you resume something yet have it be new?
“Testing shall be resumed once all the defects agreed are fixed and application is stable. Testing may also be resumed to repeat a test cycle or retest impacted test cases.”
“The scope of this document is limited to the system boundaries as defined in the Software Requirement Specification to record the solution approach of the functional, non functional requirements to be addressed in the Project. A brief description of what the System Architecture Document applies to; what is affected or influenced by this document.”
The first sentence of the above paragraph is 36 words (twice the recommended length) and consequently difficult to read. It also includes several cases of incorrect capitalization. Below is an improved version.
“This document discusses how the solution addresses the functional/non-functional requirements described in the Software Requirements Specification (SRS). It is limited to the system boundaries outlined in the SRS. A brief description of how the system architecture is impacted by the approach which will be taken will also be included.”
“For UI layer, specify the systems that are interacting with the user to get request and send back response and details of communication with the business layer.”
Sentence is too long and uses one too many “ands” (should have been shortened or written as two sentences. Below is a better version.
“Specify all systems that interact with users and describe how they communicate with the business layer.”
“The above sample logical view of the application depicts the components involved along with the connection pointers, thus says how the project is implemented logically.”
The 2nd clause “thus says …” seems a bit awkward. Below is a suggested improvement. Shorter sentences almost always improve readability.
“The above sample logical view of the application depicts the components used within a solution and how they are interconnected.”
“This section focus on what will be work required to executed any work, which is left out purposefully.”
This sentence is filled with grammatical errors including “this section focus” (should be “this section focuses”), “what will be work” (should be “what the work entails”), etc. and is not coherent. It should be entirely rethought and rewritten. Below is a suggestion.
“This section is used to identify any long-term requirements that are not addressed in the solution and describe how they can be addressed in future releases.”
These were just some of many issues that I have noticed. Try and implement all the alternatives present in this guide and you will be on the track to having better and grammatically correct English.
All the very Best to all the FaaDoOs!