Featured Technical Communicator: Nicole Kerkhofs

November 2022

Nicole Kerkhofs, smiling. She has short dark brown hair and is wearing glasses and a black and white striped top.Nicole Kerkhofs is a Quality System Content Manager at Silver Fern Farms. She started out as a Food Technologist and found technical communication along the way.

We caught up with Nicole at the conference, and we've asked her to share a bit about her mahi, experience and advice.

It was great to see you at (Re)Connect, our 2022 conference! What was your favourite conference moment?

When Grant Mackenzie asked who had seen his first TCANZ presentation (Video Killed the Redundant Writer) way back in 2010 and I stuck my hand up! That was my first TCANZ conference too. Until then I really hadn’t realised how long I’d been a part of TCANZ/TechCommNZ and I felt a moment of pride at being part of the whānau for so long.

How long have you been a technical communicator and how did you start out?

About 14 years. I started out proofreading, editing and formatting our company’s Product Information Sheets as a side hustle to my main job as a Food Technologist. Shoutout to my boss who indulged my need to correct her punctuation. The run on sentences were driving me crazy! It was then that I realised I had a passion for crafting words and content and decided that I needed to make a career out of it.

Do you have any technical writing (or similar) qualifications?

I completed the GDID (Graduate Diploma in Information Design) through what was then CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) in 2013.

What kind of content do you create?

I manage our Quality Management System documentation, which we publish as PDFs internally on our intranet. The documents describe our processes at all 14 of our sites from high level process flows to individual tasks. The entire set of documents provides the framework to satisfy regulatory (MPI) and customer requirements.

Are there other technical communicators in your workplace? How many?

There are 4 people in my team, all of whom I consider to be technical communicators, although none of them have any formal training in it.

Do you work with subject matter experts or product owners? How?

There are three main subject matter experts that have the final approval over all Quality System documents. We meet once a week to approve new documents and amendments. And my team and I will talk to a range of experts around the company depending on the topic (engineering, health & safety, environmental and more). It might just be a quick teams chat, an email with a draft attached for review, or a full-blown screen sharing Teams session. It just depends on the complexity of the requested change.

What tools do you use to do your work? Are there any you recommend?

We use a single source authoring software called ActiveDocs which allows us to create our templates in Word. We publish from ActiveDocs to SharePoint and use a SharePoint list with a PowerApps Form & some PowerAutomate workflows to manage our change requests.

When I need to make videos, I use Camtasia (thanks Grant Mackenzie!).

Which parts of your role do you enjoy the most?

I love the variety and I rarely spend a whole day on a single topic.

How much focus does your team put on using plain language?

It has always been our goal to use as much plain language as possible, especially in the documents that our operators are being trained to. We have a lot of operators who don’t have English as their first language.

Can you tell us about a rewarding project you've been involved in lately?

I’ve recently started working with an SME to document the high-level procedures around shareholder voting processes, AGMs and whatnot. These things are all way outside of my comfort zone, so I was scared I would find it difficult. But the SME I’m working with has explained it all so well and it was so easy to work with. I’m looking forward to producing this much needed piece of work over the next few months.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as a technical communicator?

Do self-review and peer-review. With self-review, start with something like an email you sent that didn’t get you the response you wanted. Read it again and figure out what you could have done better. Ask experienced technical communicators to review your work and learn from their feedback. Also, look for before and after examples of technical writing. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing a piece of writing go from trash to treasure. Oh, and join TechCommNZ if you haven’t already!

Ngā mihi nui, Nicole!

Thank you Nicole for being part of our community for so long, and for sharing your knowledge and advice with us. You're another great example of how people can find technical communication along the way, and jump right in with a passion!