Dear STC South-Central Texas Chapter Members,

As we approach the summer months, I want to reflect on the incredible programs and events we’ve had the pleasure of hosting this year. From informative workshops to engaging networking opportunities, our chapter has been bustling with activity, and it’s all thanks to your continued support and participation.

As we transition into the summer break, I want to express my gratitude to each and every one of you for your dedication to our community. Your enthusiasm and passion for technical communication have made our chapter thrive, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished together.

While our programs will be taking a brief hiatus over the summer, rest assured that we’ll be hard at work behind the scenes planning an exciting lineup of events and offerings for the fall season. From educational seminars to social gatherings, we have something special in store for you, and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

In the meantime, I encourage you to take this opportunity to relax, recharge, and enjoy some well-deserved time off. Whether you’re spending time with family and friends or embarking on new adventures, I hope you make the most of the summer months and return refreshed and rejuvenated for the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.

Thank you once again for your unwavering support and commitment to our chapter. Wishing you all a wonderful summer, and I look forward to reconnecting with you all in the fall.

Warm regards,
Royce Cook
President, STC South-Central Texas Chapter


Don’t forget to renew your membership!

Before your summer adventures begin, renew your STC membership!


ChatGPT: A Powerful Partner in Technical Writing Part 2

by Noel Atzmiller

See Part 1 here

In our last newsletter, I shared Part I of a summary of a virtual webinar I attended in December 2023, and I included some commentary. The virtual webinar was sponsored by George Mason University’s Technical Writing Program. PhD candidate  Kathryn Meeks, in Writing and Rhetoric at GMU, gave a 45-minute presentation titled “AI and Technical Writing.”. Meeks focused on ChatGPT and discussed several key topics about it during the presentation. This is the second part. If you would like to read the first part, you can find it here (link). 

AI Tools for the Technical Writer: Several AI tools exist that can be useful for technical writers. These tools include generative AI platforms, like Google Bard and Copilot; open-source NLP models, like Hugging Face; writing tools, like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor; and visual content creation tools like Canva and Visme. 

Meeks then specified how ChatGPT can assist with the following technical writing tasks. Here is the information she shared:

TaskChatGPT can:
Enhancing Document QualityImprove clarity, readability, and organization in technical documents, as well as provide design suggestions
Automating Routine TasksDraft emails, reports, blog posts, presentation scripts, agendas or outlines, project timelines and plans, and summaries of large data sets
Proofreading and Style SuggestionsProofread and provide style suggestions for technical writing
CopywritingDraft copy for web pages, write LinkedIn headlines and summaries, and assist with social media marketing
Language TranslationTranslate text from one language to another
Resume AssistanceHelp with outlining, rewriting, and proofreading resumes
Brainstorming and Idea GenerationOffer new perspectives, ideas, and challenges to arguments for thorough examination and refinement
User Guides and ManualsAssist in creating user guides and manuals
Transforming Technical Language to Plain LanguageHelp simplify complex technical information into plain language
Technical Proposals and Project BidsProvide initial drafts of technical proposals or project bids

Meeks also mentioned ideas for the role of technical writers in the future of AI. Technical writers may:

  • shape how and when AI is used in technical and professional communication.
  • stay on top of developing AI technologies.
  • shape ethical AI use and ensure accuracy and unbiased content creation.
  • advocate for responsible AI, considering user privacy and data security.

After her presentation concluded, the question-and-answer session began. Initial questions dealt with techniques for getting useful responses from ChatGPT. Some comments about using other AI packages were also discussed. But nobody addressed the elephant that was still in the room: job loss due to ChatGPT.

Eventually, Meeks received a question from a viewer who stated concern about AI eliminating technical writer positions. Meeks stated that this is a frequent concern, but “it points to the need to understand AI.” She then said, “AI will never fully replace the human…, AI needs technical writers to be the arbiters of information”. According to Meeks, technical writers need to “adopt the [AI] tools and drive the conversation” about appropriate uses of AI. 

On this point, I heartily agree. Technical writers must promote themselves as knowledgeable, skilled users of AI who can lead the way in using the technology. Without such self promotion, AI-related tasks could be delegated to others who lack the writing and editing skills to harness the full power of AI.

After a short pause following these statements, Meeks quietly acknowledged that reductions in technical writing staff due to AI are possible, especially in the corporate world. She then stressed that AI output needs human interaction and shaping. Meeks then retired the question and answered other inquiries.

To me, the question about technical writers being replaced by AI is the seminal issue. If Chat GPT can perform the tasks that Meeks listed, what advantage is there in declaring how a technical writer can do them? Why not a department administrator, a clever executive, or an intern? I realize that Meeks was trying to convey an optimistic assessment of technical writers and AI, but an explanation of why these tasks could be performed better by technical writers would have been valuable.

ChatGPT has fundamentally changed the way technical writers will approach and continue their careers. This situation has some parallels in history. For instance, I wonder how professional scribes in AD 1450 felt about their careers when Gutenberg announced his printing press. The lengthy, tedious task of copying a document by hand with pen and ink was suddenly replaced by a machine that could produce dozens of copies in a day.

The advice that I would give to 15th century scribes is essentially the same for 21st century technical writers: become proficient in the new technology as quickly as possible. Develop your skill level to the point where you are recognized as someone who is fluent in the technology and ready to provide direction on its use. This way, you demonstrate your superiority over AI and your worth as a technical writer. 

Like it or not, the future is here, and technical communicators must embrace AI as a powerful partner.

For more information about future GMU virtual webinars, contact:
Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD 
Associate Professor, English
Director, Professional and Technical Writing Graduate Programs
George Mason University
hlawren2@gmu.edu

Personas

Who are you writing for? Understanding your audience is key to crafting and organizing an effective document. You can’t meet your users’ needs unless you understand what they require. In addition, you aren’t writing for just one user. Many people will read your text, hoping that the words and sentences will provide the answers they are looking for. 

Since you cannot meet every person who will read your work, what can you do? You can create personas, or sample profiles of typical users. 

Society for Technical Communication’s TCBOK (Technical Communication Body of Knowledge) is a database of information accumulated by STC. The link below takes you to a one-page article with examples of personas. It also includes a matrix to help you understand how to create personas and try it yourself. https://www.tcbok.org/tools/personas/

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

TIM Talks

What are TIMTalks? Listen to STC President, Tim Esposito, with new STC Executive Director, Tim Shaw, in preparation for their TIMTalks webinars.


The LavaCon Conference on Content Strategy 

and Technical Communication Management

https://lavacon.org/


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