Making Heads or Tails of Coin Names in Technical Documentation

Legacy manuals are like junk-filled beaches – they keep throwing up something mundane. However, occasionally the manuals offer something a bit weirder. I was rewriting the user guide (operations manual) for a ticket vending machine (TVM) and came across the way coins were referred to in the guide.

Let’s dissect…

Some TVMs accept bank notes and coins whereas other TVMs accept smart cards and bank cards (credit and debit). Coin operated TVMs have a coin slot that accepts coins.

In the US coins are known by many names such as cent, nickel, dime, and quarter.
Such coin naming conventions are limited to the US and a few other English-speaking countries. Even if the US money – coins and bills – are used for exchange purposes in other countries, they are just known as US dollars.

Thus, some of the US coin terminology is limited to the US. Obviously!

But the world has other countries as well. Here is a list of coin currencies across the world:

  • European union coins are simply known by their denominations such as 1 cent, 2 cent, 1 euro, and 2 euro.
  • Australia has dollars and cents.
  • The UK has pound sterling, penny, and pence.
  • Ruble and kopeck are Russian.
  • Kazakhstan’s coins are tenge.
  • In India, Pakistan, and Srilanka the currency is rupee.
  • Argentinian centavos and pesos aren’t as famous as the pampas or Diego Maradona.
  • It is dirham in UAE and riyal in Saudi Arabia.
  • Laos deals in kip.
  • Peru’s coins are Peruvian soles.
  • Jordan has dinar.
  • Angolan currency is kwanza and Nigeria has kobo and naira coins.

Thus, you cannot call all the currencies (coins and bank notes) by a single name.

However, you can call coins as coins!

On to technical documentation…

The TVM that I was writing the manual for is used across the USA and probably Canada. A routine procedure instructing the user to insert coins in the coin slot of the TVM had this:

“You cannot insert coins larger than Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea dollar coins.”

I did not know who Susan B Anthony was. Pardon my poor history. Yet, this is akin to saying “Mohandas Gandhi coins” in India or “Tetyana Yablonska coins” in Ukraine or “Haji Hassanal Bolkiah coins” in Brunei.

This usage is local and even colloquial. A simple rewrite is needed:

“You cannot insert coins larger than x diameter and y thickness.”

At times, we assume that others know what we are writing about. To overcome such usage, we have global writing standards and technical documentation standards. And then we have common sense.

The ocean brings in routine junk to the beaches. Occasionally, we spot something a bit different and weird. Legacy documentation too has this tendency of springing up something surprising.

Writers need to clean up the mess in the documents!