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Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 4:29 am

I'm sorry but it's Time for my annual tirade against “simplified English” and “Human Factors”.

One of our mechanics (who speaks English as his first language) asked me to help him understand a procedure in the B-737 AMM: “OIL COOLER – INSPECTION/CHECK”. (it is four pages of what should be relatively simple instructions). What follows is a brief statement of what I believe is going wrong with aircraft maintenance (why too many crewmembers will not take us seriously, and why we are not being paid more).

In the procedure, there is a “NOTE: You examine all of the sides of the oil cooler [7] that you can get access from the APU compartment.”
Corrected: “Examine all accessible sides of the oil cooler [7].”
You’re already talking about the APU in the context of it being installed in its compartment so why mention it again? You don’t need the excess words to make the task (or the writer) sound more important and the word “get” has no related word or action and should not be used in this context.

Later in the procedure you are instructed to “Visually examine the oil cooler [7] for missing and damaged parts.” (That’s stated well enough) but then you are told that “If you find missing or damaged parts, install the missing parts or replace the damaged parts.”
If the parts are missing, they are going to be hard to install.
Correct: “Obtain and install replacements for missing parts and replace damaged parts.” (I’m not sure “Obtain” is in the Simplified English Dictionary but I would bet “procure” isn’t.)

One final example (there are many more): “Visually examine the oil cooler [7] for cracks, blockage of unwanted materials and surface contamination.” 1) No cracks are permitted. 2) If you find blockage of unwanted materials, remove the blockage.
Correct: “Visually examine the oil cooler [7] for cracks, cooling air passage blockage, and surface contamination. 1) No cracks are permitted. 2) Remove any blockage.”
If you have “blockage of unwanted materials” removal of the “unwanted materials” will take the blockage with them.

When you can’t state a problem and solution clearly, how can you be expected to effect an appropriate remedy? You shouldn't expect to be taken seriously either. It should be readily apparent to anyone with a fair command of the English language that “Simplified English” is compensation for failure to pay attention in the fourth grade. The wordiness expressed by most authors indicates a need to overcome their feelings of inadequacy in this respect. (Which is what Human Factors training [compensation?] seems to be all about.)

The idea of Simplified English is to allow those who do not use English as their first language to be able to understand the often-complex instructions needed for maintaining airplanes. It is an admirable goal. It would have worked if the people specifying the grammar and usage had, first, actually attained literacy in the language themselves. As it is, the new generation of maintenance manuals border on useless and insult the intelligence of the average user. Comedians mimicking certain ethnic groups don’t even speak this badly. I wonder why the aircrew manuals haven't been rewritten in "Simplified English".

My intent in writing this is simply to vent a bit. If you feel obligated to reply feel free but I am writing rhetorically.
One may educate the ignorance from the unknowing but stupid is forever. Boswell; ca: 1533
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 6:07 am

Yes, thew manuals can on occasion "talk too much", but IMHO it is not that bad. You work with them long enough, you learn how to read around the useless info (yes it can be argued how do u determine what is useless info, but I think you know what I'm getting at).

But as far as the statement "why too many crewmembers will not take us seriously, and why we are not being paid more, I really don't see the relation between the 2. I don't see how the way the tech writers from Boeing write a manual makes the flightcrews respect the maintenance technician less.
Trust me, there are other reasons for what's wrong in our trade now....

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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 9:10 am

I put it down to protecting themselves in this litigious society. If something goes wrong and something/someone is damaged/injured you can bet your bottom $ that there will be a court case for compensation.

As for poor remuneration, I say that is more to do with the general apatheic nature of people employed in maintenance
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 9:58 am

A VERY old PanAm captain, in response to my "textbook" response to a gripe he'd put in the book asked me what level of mediocrity I'd be willing to accept. In a nutshell he was telling me that it didn't really matter if the book said it was okay, the plane was not and he wasn't going to take it.
I've had almost 20 years to think about him and many other things he said to me and have come to understand that once you accept any level of mediocrity you have entered a state of decline and no good can come of it.

My nutshell is: if we continue to accept mediocre tech data why should we expect it to improve?
If our repair actions are based on that same data, why should any crewmember be inspired to increase his reliance on our word?
If we continue along this line why should we expect any support from other segments of the industry to support us in our quest for higher wages?
If the Simplified English molds our thoughts how can we negotiate at a level which will increase our lot in life?

I've had only 35 years in this business. I see the maintenance community being increasingly pulled apart by the apathy you mention, VC-10, and the purely profit motivated interests of the labor organizations we continue to allow to "represent" us.
Until we learn to accept only the best and cast apathy aside, form a union which will represent us as maintenance professionals with a vocation, we will remain in our present state.
One may educate the ignorance from the unknowing but stupid is forever. Boswell; ca: 1533
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 10:49 am

Avioniker, you mentioned about not being paid more. I know pay can be a private thing. If you don't want to say that is ok. But how much do you make? For the record I make $23.69/hr. I know I'm off topic, just curious.
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Sat Dec 07, 2002 1:31 pm


I agree our trade is being dumbed down. When I did one of my a/c type courses the instructor said the a/c is designed to be maintained by people just out of school. All they have to do is follow the instructions in the MM & Troubleshooting Manual. When I started in the industry we had a fair degree of latitude in what we di,d but now all they want on the line are monkeys that do what they are told. The people who are doing the telling are graduates who have no idea of the real world and are totally impractical

This is one of the reasons I left the line and went into Maintrol, at least I am doing some of the telling and can point the grads' in the right direction and introduce them to reality.

With ref to your Pan Am Capt., if the MM say's it serviceable - it's serviceable. If the Capt doesn't want to take it, it is down to him to answer to his fleet manager why he won't take an a/c full of pax that the manfacturer says is serviceable.

It may be the ideal to have the a/c in tip-top condition but these are hard times, may be your Capts attitude and that of his collegues contributed to the demise of Pan Am. A/c maint is a balancing act between safety and economics.

It is interesting to note that in the UK the Flt Dk crews of charter airlines have a much better sense of airline economics that the crews of monolithic airlines
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Tue Dec 10, 2002 11:26 pm

I will try to keep this response brief.

1. Simplified English is not Human Factors and vice versa.

2. Simplified English was developed using linguistic structures, as you mention, to enable comprehension by those who do not speak English as their first language. In fact, I agree that Simple English must almost be learned as a separate language.

3. The manuals are not written for 'the average user'. The manuals must be used by all users, from the best to the worst. As such, they must be written in such a way that someone with even a poor command of the language and low level of competency can still understand them.

4. If your human factors training appears to be to assist you in overcoming your feelings of inadequacy from not having paid attention in the fourth grade, then either your organisation needs to change their human factors trainer or you need to listen more to the training presentations.

In summary, I agree that some of your examples could be better written. If it is the language that you object to, write to Boeing. They have a process for upgrading the manuals, based on comments from users. Also, you could try the organisation that 'runs' the language:


The definition of a 'Pessimist': an Optimist with experience...
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:36 am

I think that the manuals are aimed at the type of people that are recruited into the engineering world these days.

Once upon a time an engineer served an apprenticeship and spent years learning his trade. This seems to be no longer the case. Nowerdays employers get someone in regardless of background, give them the minimum of training and expect them to know everything. By no means are these people incompetent, but they don't have the great depth of knowledge anymore and therefore the manuals have to tell them exactly what to do.

By employing these less experienced people the employers can pay less. If they can get away with it then there is no way you will get high salaries. The employers cite competitiveness to keep the rates low. They have the perfect excuse.

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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Wed Dec 11, 2002 2:15 am

I´m working in a somewhat different field (development of ground-based software and hardware), but there are similarities.

An essential part of my work consists of writing documentation - for fellow developers as well as for "end users".

And one thing I´ve learned over the years is that the difficulty in writing good documentation is not foremost in the language (although it´s obviously important).

The main problem in documentation and in training is how to make the "audience" aware of the context in which they´re working; Giving them the proper background information so they can help themselves beyond the explicit "how to..." lists (which can still be important).

Even though our trades are very different, I still guess that aircraft maintenance is among those things that just can´t reduced to "monkey training". I wouldn´t really feel safe flying on something that was maintained by people who don´t understand what they´re doing...
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Wed Dec 11, 2002 9:10 am

Well....being not employed in the aviation industry, it's altough easy to identify the problem.

Well, I am studying to become a doctor. I am advanced in my studies, so I have to deal with patients, examine them and so on. Here is an example - look at one professor(a recognized and good one) how he examines a patient face-to-face. Now, get to the bookshop or the library and read a book written by the same professor. You will notice the difference straightforward. In 90% of the cases, the book is overwhelmed with text you don't need, and you spend most of your time learning to figure out which 10% are the really important things to learn and to keep and to take care for. Very few books are written in clear and esay-to-understand language so you can read them and keep in mind what it's all about. The problem is, books and manuals are just written in a way not to just to tell you what it's all about but also to obey the rules. Even sticking to simple grammatics might ruin your text if you don't keen an eye on clear expression. Or something you can say best in certain way falls off the book, because it is too profane to be printed.

A sad thing indeed, but it is overall
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RE: Human Factors, Simplified English, And Mechanics

Wed Dec 11, 2002 3:42 pm

Speaking as a person that has written many Inspection Programs, I know where this "redundancy" comes from.

I didn't write these programs from "scratch" as if I had built this A/C myself. I adapted the manufacturers inspection program to fit our application. The problems arise when you have to accommodate the interference from the FAA's Principal Maintenance Inspector, Principal Avionics Inspector, and the Principal Operations Inspector. They say they are looking for safety, but in reality, they are looking for "scapegoats".

I've had moderate success getting Inspectors out of the office signing forms and actually getting them out on floor by having "Inspector" "Sign offs" for "Close Only" items. This gets experienced personnel out on the A/C when they are most needed and in a positive role for the Tech's involved and the company as well as the flying public.

Duplicity in inspection requirements is a waste of time and energy!

Oh well, your tax dollars at work!

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