I'm faced with the task of writing a slightly informal technical paper, where I'd define more than a dozen terms, all ending in "-bility". Examples: portability, maintainability, comprehensibility, etc., etc., etc.

In essence, those are all instances of the concept "a measure of how easy it is to do [something]". But I'm afraid that the text will get repetitive if I start all definitions the same way.

Would there be other phrases with a similar meaning that I could use in this context?


Edit #1: Shorter phrases with the same or similar meaning would be a plus...

Edit #2: The finishes text will look somewhat like a dictionary, e.g.:

  • Portability is a measure of how easy it is to...
  • Maintainability is a measure of how easy it is to...
  • Comprehensibility is a measure of how easy it is to...

so, this is where the repetition comes from.

  • 1
    How about can be [ported, maintained, understood, etc.]? If you want to ring the changes, easily ported, or easy to port, etc. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:54
  • @FumbleFingers, that would definitely work, thank you very much. Do you mean something along the lines of "a measure of how much a system is easy to port", "a measure of how easily a system can be ported"?
    – rick
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:01
  • 3
    If I were reading an instruction manual, rephrasings for the sake of avoiding repetitiveness would start me worrying what subtleties signalled by the changes in terminology I was missing. 'Portability' is often used to mean 'ease of being carried' rather than 'the measure of how easy the thing is to carry'. A typewriter is not 75% portable. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:01
  • Thank you @EdwinAshworth, "ease of being [extended/modified/reused]" all sound great. Regarding portability, this has a very specific meaning in the context of software engineering. And believe it or not, we often need to assign numbers/probabilities to all those properties, called a system's "functional attributes". Still, I'd like to avoid the feel of an "instruction manual" on this text. If the reader gets a firm grasp on the basic concepts, and the text is still enjoyable, I'd be more than content.
    – rick
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:09
  • 1
    @rick: I think even if your text is intended to be "slightly informal", it would probably be a good idea if all your "measurable/gradeable attributes" are structurally similar. Most likely your readers would find the text easier to grasp if they notice quickly that all your xxxxability terms are used in the same way, so that high xxxxability or scores only 3 out of 10 for xxxxability always has the same general sense, and they only need to take note of the specfic xxxx in each case. Variety for the sake of it is good for food/entertainment, but not for information transfer. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:22

4 Answers 4


Some synonymous phrases for you:

how much effort it takes

how easy it is

the time [or effort] required to

the [amount of] work required

how long you can expect to

how easy [or hard] you'll find it to

how much time you'll spend

  • Thanks, "how much effort" and "the amount of work" are great for me.
    – rick
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:00

I hesitate to say it for a technical document, but could you use Ease?

Ease of maintenance.

Migrate data with ease.


You could also just mix it up a bit by rephrasing the sentences to drop the -ability part. So maintainability could be "easy to maintain", "ease of maintenance", "the client or current contractor will be able to maintain the _ with no difficulty" etc.

  • @rick - My pleasure.
    – Eli
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 22:51

Perhaps facility

ease of action or performance; freedom from difficulty

Or accessibility

1. the fact of being easy to reach, get to, or enter: 

Mt Kinabalu's popularity lies in its accessibility

the easy accessibility of the area

2. the fact of being easy to use or obtain

Declining prices have improved accessibility

the quality and accessibility of health care

3. the fact of being easy enough to understand and appreciate 
  • Thanks, but I can't choose the words ending with "-bility", I need to define them... Edited my question to make this point clearer.
    – rick
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:05

Do not succumb to what Fowler termed elegant variation in technical documents!

Varying the style of a series of definitions without good cause leads the reader to think that there is something different in their substance. The way to avoid such a long phrase being repeted is to include it just a single time, e.g. something along the lines of:

The following technical terms indicate the ease of performing various tasks:

Portability: carrying
Maintainability: upkeep
Comprehensibility: understanding

but with the definitions tabbed out (which SE markup does not allow me to mix with bold) for ease of reading.

I leave it to the individual to find the most suitable form for the words I have italicized. My concern is on how to present an acceptable readable alternative to what I (as a technical writer) regard as the misguided idea of variation in the definitions.

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