Featured Technical Communicator: Mercedes Glover
Mercedes Glover is a Content Developer at Fusion5. She has over 10 years’ experience in communication roles, and discovered technical communication as a career option somewhere along the way. Her background in art and visual design helps shape the work she does as a technical communicator today.
Mercedes tells us more about what she does, as well as her thoughts on the Plain Language Act 2022 and ChatGPT.
We enjoyed having you at (Re)Connect, our 2022 conference! What was your favourite conference moment?
I loved mingling with other technical communicators at the conference. Sometimes a technical communication role can be quite isolating when only one of you is in a team of developers. So it was great to meet other technical communicators who share similar experiences.
Aside from meeting so many wonderful people, the presentations and workshops helped me add new skills to my technical communication toolbelt. I especially enjoyed Katherine Barcham’s presentation and workshop on how to make content more accessible for people with disabilities, which is of particular interest to me.
How long have you been a technical communicator and how did you start out?
I’ve been a Content Developer at Fusion5 (a business solutions software provider and consulting company) for about three years, but my communication experience goes further back than that.
I’ve always had a passion for writing, art and design. I wanted to write and illustrate books as a kid (I still think that would be a neat achievement one day). After school, I went on to study art and design at Massey University, graduating with a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication Design.
I began my written communications career over ten years ago, working as a Funding & Communications Coordinator at a charity called Autism New Zealand. There I learnt the power of persuasive writing from applying for hundreds of funding grants. After that, I returned to visual communication, like graphic design and illustration, doing freelance work for a while. Then I got a job as a Graphic Design & Account Manager at BadgeWorks, a small badge design and manufacturing company. Due to it being a small business, I had a lot of responsibilities. From a communication perspective, this included looking after individual customers, sending bulk marketing emails to our subscribers, and regularly updating the website and social media.
Until I discovered the Content Developer job at Fusion5, I didn’t know technical communication was a career option. I can sometimes be pretty introverted, so I’d been looking for a behind-the-scenes role where I could somehow use my communication skills without having to speak directly to members, customers, or clients (as was required in my old jobs). The idea seemed somewhat paradoxical (communicate with people without speaking to them directly? Ha!). But the role at Fusion5 met my requirements, so I can now hone my written communication skills while the talented consultants and sales representatives do all the talking!
What does a typical work day look like for you?
A typical work day for me involves creating content for two of our HR and payroll software products: Jade Star and Jemini, which have regular releases to update and maintain the software.
Jade Star is a well-established, highly trusted 20 year old product. Because of that, we can successfully meet our clients’ requirements by implementing customisations and security enhancements through quarterly releases.
Jemini takes a more modern and innovative approach to HR and payroll, aiming to provide forward-thinking businesses with next-level solutions. As a result, there’s a significant amount of ongoing development, with new features introduced regularly. As a content writer, I need to write content that appeals to a range of users, from potential customers to long-term clients.
If a release date is approaching for either product, I’ll be busy creating release notes, which will take up most of my day. We use Jira software by Atlassian to keep track of the development team’s work. Once a new feature or enhancement is ready for release, I’ll be assigned the Jira ticket to complete the release notes. Once all release notes are compiled, I’ll set up bulk email communications to share the release details with our clients.
If a release is still a few weeks away, I’ll spend most of my day writing new content for Knowledge Jems, the online self-service knowledge base I’ve been creating for Jemini (more on that below).
Which parts of your role do you enjoy the most?
Once I have a solid understanding of the subject I’m writing about, I get tremendous satisfaction from refining my first draft in a way that will make the most sense to the reader. This editing process involves converting the content to plain language, using an appropriate tone for the target audience, and enhancing the document’s visual appeal with clear headings, well-structured paragraphs, and informative graphics. I get a happy buzz as soon as the document starts looking polished and professional.
Have you been following the buzz about ChatGPT? Have you tried it? What do you think of it?
I’ve been quietly listening out for ways ChatGPT (and other AI software) might affect my career, for better or worse, but I haven’t gotten too involved in the hype yet.
I’ve played with ChatGPT to test its capabilities. Sometimes it suggests new ideas, and I’ll integrate some of its suggestions into my writing (for example, it can help summarise a long block of complicated text into a few concise sentences, which is great for introductory paragraphs). Other times, the suggestions are so wrong it’s laughable (if I tell it to write a how-to guide for a product, it’ll attempt to fill in the gaps in its knowledge and produce apparently convincing yet entirely fictional instructions). So far, I’ve found it can give me basic ideas for reformatting a sentence to improve the flow, but I still need to do the grunt of the work, which leaves me confident that I won’t be out of a job yet (if at all).
Because ChatGPT is so seemingly confident at generating incorrect information, we need experienced writers and subject matter experts to catch the errors. We also need to make sure it produces ethically sound content— it unintentionally has the potential to create biased, prejudiced, or discriminatory responses. The ChatGPT developers have done their best to prevent it from writing offensive content by giving you automatic disclaimers if you ask about sensitive topics. Still, at the end of the day, it’s using source material from humans who can be prone to making errors and insensitive content themselves.
Overall, I believe that if ChatGPT is used in the right manner, it could become a useful tool for automating the tedious parts of our jobs. It could also help people who aren’t as confident at writing. Removing dull obstacles and improving accessibility could free up our capacity to focus on and develop in other areas that are of a higher priority or that we enjoy. I’m open to evolving with ChatGPT’s capabilities rather than fearing it.
What tools do you use to do your work? Are there any you recommend?
- Document360. I use this software to create Knowledge Jems, Jemini’s online self-service knowledge base. I find it straightforward and fun to use, super customisable, and the support team is proactive in helping us make the best use of the software.
- Microsoft Office 365. Aside from the obvious (Word for writing, Outlook for emails, Teams for meetings and chat), I find Microsoft Office really useful for planning my day. I use Outlook’s tasks and calendar tools to break down my projects and keep me on track. All my tasks for the week are categorised and added to my calendar as colour-coded blocks of work. Filling my calendar with these blocks helps me quickly figure out what project to focus on when work gets busy.
- Atlassian’s Jira. Jira is an agile software that we use to track the team’s product development and get a clearer idea of where everyone is at.
- Grammarly. I’m not ashamed to say that my grammar isn’t perfect. I skipped Year 13 English (it clashed with all the art subjects I wanted to do). I’m also human, so I’m not immune to making mistakes. Thankfully, Grammarly helps point out obvious errors and sometimes suggests better ways to phrase sentences. I’ve just got to be careful it doesn’t strip out the personality in my writing!
The Plain Language Act 2022 is coming into effect in April 2023. Does this affect your role or workplace? How much focus does your team put on using plain language?
It’s encouraging that the New Zealand Government has agreed public communications must be clear and accessible. It makes so much sense! Thankfully, plain language is already encouraged at my workplace, which is lucky because I know that’s not the case for all workplaces. I’m glad plain language advocates now have the Act to back them up.
Can you tell us about a rewarding project you’ve been involved in lately?
Creating Knowledge Jems, our online self-service knowledge base for Jemini has been hugely rewarding. Jemini is designed for forward-thinking companies that want to transform their payroll and human resource software, so it’s important to have forward-thinking documentation that our clients can access easily. As the sole content developer in my team, Knowledge Jems is a massive undertaking because of how much content I need to write for a constantly evolving product. But I’ve met the challenge with enthusiasm, and it’s been a satisfying journey, transforming our old process of creating PDFs in PowerPoint (which isn’t designed for the documentation I write, of course) to a new dynamic, online self-service platform.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a technical communicator?
I have two sets of advice:
- Do a plain language course (I suggest the School of unProfessional Writing with Shelly Davies), watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, read blogs, and join technical communicator groups (like TechCommNZ). You’ll develop so many skills and learn that you’re not alone.
- Advocate for yourself and your work (or find someone to advocate on your behalf). Trust that your words and ideas have value and are an important asset to your team, employer, and client.
Ngā mihi nui, Mercedes!
We loved hearing about your path to technical communication, what you do for mahi, and how you do it. It all sounds very interesting, worthwhile and satisfying! Thank you for your recommendations and advice, and your take on hot topics in our industry.