A fairly common English mistake I see on the part of ESL learners is the omission of articles. To avoid making this mistake, I tend to refrain from removing them if I'm not sure.

However, in a flow-chart style diagram, where concision is important, is it "more tolerable" to remove articles, similar to what some newspaper headlines do? More importantly, what "sounds" better to a native English speaker?

As an example, consider the two versions below:

"Full" version:

Select a property -> Establish its status -> Find the origin of the property ->
What is the origin? ---a human error---> Warn the user about it
                 \-----a system error---> Create a log file

"Headlinese" version:

Select property -> Establish status -> Find origin of property ->
What is the origin? ---human error---> Warn user about it
                 \-----system error---> Create log file

The second seems clearer to me, does it feel like the articles are missing for a native speaker?

(Just before posting, I found out about Headlinese in this question, but it is not clear to me if the style is actually frowned upon or not; I'm mostly interested in the reader's perception of it, in diagrams inside scientific papers, for instance, where brevity is not as essential as in a newspaper.)

  • 3
    It's normal to find articles omitted in written contexts where extreme brevity is required. But if a trainer were standing in front of a class of trainees and was reading aloud from the flow-chart and explaining the flow, the trainer would probably reinsert them: "Create a log file". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 26 '18 at 9:21
  • From a diagram perspective I would even further shorten part of it to "Origin? --human error--> Warn user". The point, as @Tᴚoɯɐuo notes, is extreme brevity: all words, even articles, take up space, and I don't want to use space unless I absolutely have to. In conversation, however, I wouldn't actually say it like that, because it comes off as incredibly unnatural. – Alexander Jul 26 '18 at 13:22
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    Not a native speaker, but this variant of headlinese (particularly for verb-noun phrases like "Select property" or "Restore database") is incredibly common in programming/technical circles, to the point where a menu item saying eg. "Restore a/the database" would seem out of place. – Maciej Stachowski Jul 26 '18 at 16:02
  • Either version works, but the second version is closer to "Structured English" used to describe software design. – Mobeer Jul 31 '18 at 18:42

Your "headlinese" is absolutely acceptable for a flow chart. In fact, it is preferable where succinctness is important.

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