Top 8 Global English Guidelines


The SAS Global Forum 2020 call for content is open until Sept. 30, 2019. Are you thinking of submitting a paper? If so, we have a few tips adapted from The Global English Style Guide that will help your paper shine. By following Global English guidelines, your writing will be clearer and easier to understand, which can boost the effectiveness of your communications.

Even if you’re not planning on submitting a paper and producing technical information is not your primary job function, being aware of Global English guidelines can help you communicate more effectively with your colleagues from around the world.

1. Use Short Sentences

Short sentences are less likely to contain ambiguities or complexities. For task-oriented information, try to limit your sentences to 20 words. If you have written a long sentence, break it up into two or more shorter sentences.

2. Use Complete Sentences

Incomplete sentences can be confusing for non-native speakers because the order of sentence parts is different in other languages. In addition, incomplete sentences can cause machine-translation software to produce garbled results. For example, the phrases below are fragments that may cause issues for readers:

Original: Lots of info here. Not my best, but whatever. Waiting to hear back until I do anything.
Better: There is lots of info here. It’s not my best work, but I am waiting to hear back until I do anything.

An extremely common location to encounter sentence fragments is in the introductions to lists. For example, consider the sentence introducing the list below.

The programs we use for analysis are:
• SAS Visual Analytics
• SAS Data Mining and Machine Learning
• SAS Visual Investigator

If you use an incomplete sentence to introduce a list, consider revising the sentence to be complete, then continue on to the list, as shown below.

We use the following programs in our analysis:
• SAS Visual Analytics
• SAS Data Mining and Machine Learning
• SAS Visual Investigator

3. Untangle Long Noun Phrases

A noun phrase can be a single noun, or it can consist of a noun plus one or more preceding words such as articles, pronouns, adjectives, and other nouns. For example, the following sentence contains a noun phrase with 6 words:

The red brick two-story apartment building was on fire.

Whenever possible, limit noun phrases to no more than three words while maintaining comprehensibility.

4. Expand -ED Verbs That Follow Nouns Whenever Possible

A past participle is the form of a verb that usually ends in -ed. It can be used as both the perfect and past tense of verbs as well as an adjective. This double use can be confusing for non-native English speakers. Consider the following sentence:

This is the algorithm used by the software.

In this example, the word “used” is an adjective, but it may be mistaken for a verb. Avoid using -ed verbs in ambiguous contexts. Instead, add words such as “that” or switch to the present tense to help readers interpret your meaning. A better version of the previous example sentence follows.

This is the algorithm that is used by the software.

5. Always Revise -ING Verbs That Follow Nouns

The name of this tip could have been written as “Always Revise -ING Verbs Following Nouns.” But that’s exactly what we want to avoid! If an -ING word immediately follows and modifies a noun, then either expand it or eliminate it. These constructions are ambiguous and confusing.

6. Use “That” Liberally

The word “that” is your friend! In English, the word “that” is often omitted before a relative clause. If it doesn’t feel unnatural or forced, try to include “that” before these clauses, as shown in the following example.

Original: The file you requested could not be located.

Better: The file that you requested could not be located.

7. Choose Simple, Precise Words That Have a Limited Range of Meanings

We are not often accustomed to thinking about the alternative meanings for the words we use. But consider that many words have multiple meanings. If translated incorrectly, these words could make your writing completely incomprehensible and possibly ridiculous. Consider the alternate meanings of a few of the words in the following sentences:

When you hover over the menu, a box appears.

We are deploying containers in order to scale up efficiency.

8. Don’t Use Slang, Idioms, Colloquialisms, or Figurative Language

In the UK, retail districts are called “high street.” In the US, they are called “main street.” This is just one example of how using colloquialisms can cause confusion. And Brits and Americans both speak the same language!

Especially in formal communications, keep your writing free of regional slang and idioms that cannot be easily understood by non-native English speakers. Common phrases such as “under the weather,” “piece of cake,” or “my neck of the woods” make absolutely no sense when translated literally.

We hope these Global English tips help you write your Global Forum paper, or any other communications you might produce as part of your work. For more helpful tips, read The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market by John R. Kohl.


About Author

Suzanne Morgen

Developmental Editor

Suzanne Morgen is a Developmental Editor with SAS Press. She has degrees in English from Wellesley College and the University of Virginia. Guiding authors through the publication process is her passion, but when she is not working, Suzanne is either hiking in a forest or wishing she were hiking in a forest.


  1. Peter Lancashire on

    This is great advice.
    Er, "alternate" is American English. This is a verb in British English. I think you mean "alternative". In fact, I think you mean "multiple". An alternative is a choice between two or sometimes more possibilities. The multiple meanings exist simultaneously.
    I sympathise. Writing clear English is difficult. Writing about software is even harder because it has "borrowed" many terms. Some examples are: dashboard, cloud and random forest. 🙂

    • Suzanne Morgen

      Great point! We often assume because we work in the same industry that we share the same vocabulary, but that might not always be the case!

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