Grammarly is growing on me. I didn’t exactly like the idea of computer-assisted writing, but that plucky little bot has proven useful in surprising ways. For example, it just told me that, assuming the political winds keep blowing left, I’m spelling out UAV wrong.

At first, I thought its suggested word swap to “uncrewed aerial vehicle” or (more bizarrely) “crewless aerial vehicle” was just a case of misunderstanding human context, akin to telling me I should write “hot cross rear ends.”

But it was enough to make me question my assumptions. With minimal digging, I realized these new spellings of UAV were gaining traction in academia… and at NASA… and possibly at my favorite federal client, the FAA.

Thanks for the tip, computer.

The June 23, 2021, report holds a lot of interest for an aviation geek like me, like when it mentions how certain words were chosen to minimize syllables during conversations between pilots and controllers.

But starting on page 97, the FAA Drone Advisory Committee goes over the history of unnecessarily masculine aviation terms, and then proposes neutral replacements. I hope aerospace federal contractors are paying attention, because this could be a headache for their technical writers.

You might think updating isolated terms is as easy as doing a few find-and-replace operations. But think of all the Word documents, PDFs, SharePoint pages, Markdown files, web copy, GUI labels, and backend code values that a heavily involved software documentation team might have to track down.

And even assuming a given company makes a seamless transition, think of the impact that might have to document navigation when readers habitually keyword-searching for a section on “unmanned aircraft” suddenly can’t jump to their content.

I know this is tricky territory. And I’m not telling anyone to keep problematic terms in your company’s style guide, because I think the push for inclusive language is a good thing. But as technical writers, we need to be aware of the consequences of changing industry jargon to the clarity, navigability, and reach of our content.

It might even be wise, if somewhat cowardly, to wait until a few months after the FAA officially approves of its language changes before you follow suit. Let the agency, not your documentation, spring that on readers. If you can use that time to scour your docs, all the better.

Low priority? Not to PreviousCompany

I mean, look at the above graphic from page 108 of the FAA report. My previous company maintains the FAA’s Federal Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) System. Last I checked, it’s a suite of about 15 apps, most of which have their own documentation. Those poor writers have a lot of files to change. I may only have to change a few words in my resume.