Using ChatGPT as a technical writing assistant
An experienced technical author explores using ChatGPT to assist with a number of writing projects. He finds ChatGPT can provide time-savings through drafts and prompting for additional content, but lacks accuracy and depth - as well as suffering from bubbly optimism. Overall it is useful if you work iteratively, asking for small chunks with well-crafted prompts.
25 April 2023
- Goals and expectations
- Radar Blip: Casual management of webhooks - Hold
- Radar Blip: Giskard - Assess
- Macro trends article
- Adapting the radar for a less-technical audience
- Strengths and weaknesses of ChatGPT in technical writing
- Strategies for improving ChatGPT’s output
- Avoiding over-reliance on AI-generated content
In recent weeks, I’ve been exploring the use of ChatGPT within a professional context. As a consultant I write extensively about technology and software, advise clients, and collaborate with internal teams. To avoid any potential intellectual property issues, I consulted both my boss and one of the company lawyers. I specifically avoiding using ChatGPT in any client-related context. Instead, I focused on employing ChatGPT for technical writing intended for public consumption, thereby minimizing the possibility of inadvertently exposing proprietary information to the AI.
We like to include an image for our twitter card, for this one, we naturally went to Stable Diffusion. We used the prompt “concept art of a human and an ai facing each other, collaborating using an advanced holographic display, close up, mid-length framing” (Stable Diffusion v2-1_768-ema-pruned, model hash ad2a33c361, seed 564306172)
Goals and expectations
When I first considered using ChatGPT as a writing assistant, I had a few specific goals in mind. One of the main tasks I hoped it would help me with was crafting ‘blips’ for the Thoughtworks Technology Radar. The radar covers over 100 individual technologies, and while our team engages in detailed discussions about each of them, translating those notes into a coherent paragraph can be challenging. I was hopeful that ChatGPT could streamline this process and make it more efficient.
In addition to the blips, I write an accompanying article called “Macro Trends in the Technology Industry” that delves into the broader themes and patterns we observe in the field. I was curious to see if ChatGPT could play a role in shaping this piece, providing insights or even contributing content.
Lastly, we also adapt the Technology Radar for a business context, aiming to make its high-level themes more accessible to a non-technical audience. This often involves simplifying complex concepts and presenting them in a more digestible format. I wanted to explore the potential of ChatGPT in assisting with this task, helping us create content that effectively communicates our ideas to a wider readership.
Radar Blip: Casual management of webhooks - Hold
Hello. Please help me write a 'blip' in the style of the Thoughtworks technology radar, about the dangers of "Casual Management of Webhooks". Summarize the notes and discussion below:
With the rise of remote working we are continuing to see growing adoption of chat collaboration platforms (e.g. Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams) and with it a rise in "ChatOps". Most chat collaboration platforms offer webhooks as a simple way to automate sending messages and notifications to channels, and much developer platform tooling (e.g. CI/CD software, monitoring software, etc) is building out first class support for utilising these webhooks. However there is a tendency to treat these webhooks as configuration, rather than as a secret/credential. We see this tendency manifesting in how chat tools present webhooks, how teams treat and store webhooks (e.g. committing them in plain text to a repo), and how integrated tooling treats webhooks (e.g. exposing them in plain text). This is a security smell that can open up an organisation to phishing attacks.
ChatOps webhooks are a credential: they offer privileged access to an internal space. In some cases, they directly contain API keys that can be extracted and utilised directly. Not treating them as secrets opens up the possibility that they can be used for phishing, and that phishing is more likely to be successful because of the lack of awareness of this type of attack. Webhooks in git repos can easily be extracted and used to craft and send a fraudulent payload, which the user may have no reason to doubt and no way to authenticate. There has not been major reported incidents of this type in the wild which only adds to the complacency. In order to mitigate this threat we need to see a shift, both in the culture of teams who are handling these webhooks, and in the culture of software developers who are building integrations with ChatOps platforms.
Here’s a blip in the style of the Thoughtworks technology radar:
Dangers of Casual Management of Webhooks: A Security Smell
As remote work continues to rise, so does the adoption of chat collaboration platforms and ChatOps. These platforms often offer webhooks as a simple way to automate sending messages and notifications, but we are noticing a concerning trend of treating webhooks as configuration, rather than as a secret/credential. This can lead to phishing attacks and compromised internal spaces.
Webhooks are credentials that offer privileged access to an internal space and may contain API keys that can be easily extracted and utilized directly. Not treating them as secrets opens up the possibility of successful phishing attacks. Webhooks in git repos can easily be extracted and used to send fraudulent payloads, which the user may not have any way to authenticate.
To mitigate this threat, teams handling webhooks need to shift their culture and treat webhooks as sensitive credentials. Software developers building integrations with ChatOps platforms must also be mindful of this risk and ensure that webhooks are handled with proper security measures. Let’s not wait for a major incident to occur before taking action.
This output was pretty good, especially the first paragraph that justifies the rise of ChatOps and explains how webhooks are related. The final paragraph is some kind of “call to action” which isn’t really right for a Radar blip, but it was easy enough to remove. Thoughtworks has published the Technology Radar for more than ten years now, so simply asking for output “in the style of the Thoughtworks Technology Radar” creates text that has more or less the right kind of style for a Radar blip. If I wanted something in a different style I would have needed to be more specific in my prompt. You can see the final casual management of webhooks text on the Radar site, to see where we ended up after editing, including a round of company-wide feedback.
Radar Blip: Giskard - Assess
In the style of the thoughtworks technology radar, write a 'blip' for "Giskard". Incorporate the following notes, and keep the resulting write up to two paragraphs.
Giskard is Quality Assurance for AI models, e.g. helps find biases
Seems like a new kind of tool, makes collaboration between data scientists and business stakeholders / SMEs easy. No real experience with the tool yet.
Person A: People I talked to highlighted the quality assurance part, you can write a variety of tests for it
Person B: The "why" here is copied from website, but what IS it actually that makes the collab easier?
Person C: When we are reasoning about models, lots of business implications involved, so bias avoidance can be quality metrics for a model; you can codify acceptance criteria for your models, together with business
This one is most about data quality compared to other tools
Giskard emerges as a novel Quality Assurance solution for AI models, specifically designed to identify and mitigate biases. By focusing on data quality, Giskard distinguishes itself from other tools in the market. It fosters collaboration between data scientists and business stakeholders, enabling them to jointly establish acceptance criteria for AI models based on bias avoidance and other essential quality metrics. This ensures that the model outcomes are better aligned with business objectives, while also minimizing the risks associated with biased predictions.
Though we have limited hands-on experience with Giskard, conversations with users have emphasized its ability to support a wide range of tests for quality assurance. The tool’s unique value proposition lies in facilitating seamless collaboration between technical and non-technical stakeholders, making it easier to reason about models and their business implications. By allowing teams to codify their criteria, Giskard promotes transparency, streamlines the development process, and helps organizations build more robust and ethical AI models.
The text is clearly way too optimistic for an ‘assess’ blip on the Radar. The fact that ChatGPT has been trained on tons of marketing pages on the Internet, as well as fine tuned using human feedback, has led to the bot saying things that we never would. Words like ‘novel’ and ‘unique’ are something I’d edit and remove.
What was very interesting here though is the response from one of our machine learning experts in Finland. She said it sounded like the blip had been written by a junior person with very little understanding of the typical ML workflow, and she made some quite significant changes before the blip text was ready for publication. I’m not an expert in this particular tool — although I’ve used a few ML tool chains — and this critical feedback highlights the fact that ChatGPT output generally requires quite skilled experts to review and edit. Here's the Giskard blip on the Radar after human review and editing.
Macro trends article
I'm the author of the Thoughtworks "macro trends" series of articles. Are you familiar with those? Can you tell me what they are about?
As an AI language model, I'm familiar with a wide range of topics, including the Thoughtworks "macro trends" series of articles. The series aims to identify and analyze the significant macro-level trends that are shaping technology, business, and society. These trends often have a global impact and are driven by factors such as technological advancements, changes in consumer behavior, economic shifts, and global events. By understanding these macro trends, organizations and individuals can better adapt to change and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
Some of the key topics covered in these articles may include (but are not limited to):
The rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning
The increasing importance of data privacy and security
The role of digital transformation in businesses
The growing impact of climate change and sustainability efforts
The expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices
The evolution of the workforce and the future of work
The development of new technologies, such as blockchain and quantum computing
The specifics of each article may vary depending on the time they were written and the trends relevant at that time.
OK, I think you have the idea. I would say it's not really about society, though, it's more of a tech industry focus.
I have made some notes on new trends for a new article. I'd like you to help me express my notes as sections of a macro trends article.
The first trend is around knowledge management for teams. We discussed interesting tools Logseq and Obsidian, and we wrote blips about them. For logseq we wrote:
Team knowledge management is a familiar concept with teams using tools such as wikis to store information and onboard new team members. Some of our teams now prefer to use logseq as a team knowledge base. An open-source knowledge-management system, loqsec is powered by a graph database, helps users organize thoughts, notes and ideas and can be adapted for team use with Git-based storage. Logseq allows teams to build a democratic and accessible knowledge base, providing each member with a personalized learning journey and facilitating efficient onboarding. However, as with any knowledge management tool, teams will need to apply good curation and management of their knowledge base to avoid information overload or disorganization.
While similar functionality is available in tools like Obsidian, the key difference lies in Logseq's focus on consumption, with paragraph-based linking enabling team members to quickly find the relevant context without having to read an entire article.
Can you turn this into a macro trends article section about knowledge management tools for teams? It should be about 3 paragraphs long.
Emerging Trend: Next-Generation Knowledge Management Tools for Teams
In today's fast-paced technology landscape, effective knowledge management is more crucial than ever for teams to stay competitive and agile. Traditional tools like wikis have been commonly used to store and share information, but recently there has been a surge of interest in more advanced and versatile knowledge management systems. These new tools, such as Logseq and Obsidian, offer innovative features that are transforming the way teams manage, access, and engage with their collective knowledge.
Logseq, an open-source knowledge-management system, is a prime example of this shift. Powered by a graph database, it helps users organize thoughts, notes, and ideas and can be adapted for team use with Git-based storage. Logseq's unique approach enables teams to build a democratic and accessible knowledge base, providing each member with a personalized learning journey and facilitating efficient onboarding. Its paragraph-based linking feature allows team members to quickly find the relevant context without having to read an entire article, emphasizing its focus on consumption. However, as with any knowledge management tool, teams will need to apply good curation and management practices to avoid information overload or disorganization.
Similarly, Obsidian offers robust knowledge management capabilities, but with a stronger emphasis on content creation. While both tools provide valuable features for managing and accessing information, their differences highlight the evolving nature of team knowledge management. As these tools continue to develop and gain traction, they are set to redefine the way teams collaborate and learn, ultimately driving innovation and productivity in the tech industry.
Similar to the Radar blips drafted by ChatGPT, this text is overly ‘bubbly.’ Phrases like “more crucial than ever” just sound a little too hyperbolic. I found this was a common theme – ChatGPT is just way too optimistic and happy sounding, and almost ends up a little bit ‘bland’ because of this. But a quick edit pass can fix this and introduce words that are more like the ones I would really use to describe this trend.
Additionally, ChatGPT seems to always structure its responses as introduction, information, summary. It seems to do this whether you have asked an open-ended question or are asking it to help you create a section of an article. I found I repeatedly needed to discard or condense the opening and closing paragraphs of ChatGPT’s output.
You can find the finished macro trends article on the Thoughtworks website.
Adapting the radar for a less-technical audience
I need to rewrite some stories that are told in a technical context, but for a less technical business audience.
Accessibility has been an important consideration for organizations for many years. Recently, we've highlighted the experiences of our teams with the ever-growing set of tools and techniques that add improved accessibility to development, and several regions our teams highlighted awareness of these techniques via awareness campaigns. We've featured accessibility-related blips on continuous integration pipeline development, [design playbooks](/radar/techniques/accessibility-annotations-in-designs), [intelligent guided accessibility testing](/radar/techniques/intelligent-guided-accessibility-tests), [linting](/radar/tools/axe-linter) and [unit testing](/radar/tools/ibm-equal-access-accessibility-checker). Growing awareness around this important topic is welcome; techniques that give more people access to functionality in improved ways can only be a good thing.
Can you rewrite this in the form "what is it" (one or two sentences) and "business context" (one paragraph) ?
What is it?
Accessibility has become increasingly important for organizations, with a growing set of tools and techniques available to improve it in development processes and awareness campaigns promoting its significance.
As businesses prioritize accessibility, they are adopting various tools and techniques that make their products and services more inclusive. These include continuous integration pipeline development, design playbooks, intelligent guided accessibility testing, linting, and unit testing. Embracing accessibility not only benefits a wider range of users but also enhances a company's reputation for being socially responsible and inclusive, ultimately fostering positive outcomes for both the organization and its customers.
Can you describe 'accessibility' in one sentence?
Accessibility refers to the design of products, services, and environments that ensure people with disabilities can effectively and easily access, use, and interact with them.
Based on this, what advice would you give businesses around accessibility?
Businesses should prioritize accessibility by designing and adapting their products, services, and environments to be inclusive and user-friendly for people with disabilities, thereby demonstrating social responsibility, enhancing their reputation, and reaching a broader customer base.
I was very happy with this output. ChatGPT provided a very good “business readable” version of the Radar theme and this definitely saved me some time. I thought the advice it generated was pretty good.
Strengths and weaknesses of ChatGPT in technical writing
On balance, I’d say ChatGPT has proven to be a useful tool in the technical writing process, but it’s not without its foibles. Understanding its strengths and weaknesses can help you to get the most out of it.
- Knowledge: ChatGPT excels at instant recall of similar situations, facts, and ways others have discussed a subject. This allows it to bring up additional points that might be relevant to the topic at hand, prompting me as an author to write more or cover additional related information.
- Time-savings: Output from ChatGPT serves as a good starting point for writing, saving time by providing initial content that can be refined or expanded upon.
- Suggested additions: ChatGPT can offer suggestions for additional content or sections, and they are generally quite useful. I fed it an outline for this article and it proposed “goals and expectations” and “strategies for improving ChatGPT’s output” as additional sections, both of which I liked and included in my writing process.
- Accuracy and depth: ChatGPT’s responses may not always be accurate or in-depth, requiring manual review and revision. It also has an “information cutoff” date, so recent events or updates won’t be reflected in its output.
- Overly positive and optimistic: The AI tends to produce content that is too positive and optimistic, which might not be suitable when a critical eye is needed, as with the Technology Radar blips.
- Context limitations: Both GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 have context limits, with GPT-4 having significantly larger limits. This constraint can lead to issues where ChatGPT only considers its most recent output or forgets context from earlier in the process.
- Anchoring: ChatGPT can sometimes get ‘stuck’ or ‘anchored’ at a local maximum. For example, I once asked it to expand some bullet point notes into a multi-paragraph article, which worked fine. I thought the output could use more detail and asked it to expand on what it had written, but it produced essentially the same content again without actually adding detail as I had asked. In such cases, it might be necessary to start a new chat using the best output so far to overcome this issue.
Strategies for improving ChatGPT’s output
ChatGPT can be a useful technical writing assistant, but the quality of the output depends heavily on how you use it. Here are some tips for refining ChatGPT’s responses:
- Use a context-setting prompt: Create, tweak, and reuse a context-setting prompt that outlines the style of writing, context, and target audience. This helps ensure that subsequent content has a consistent tone and is tailored to your requirements, even if you need to break up your work across multiple chat sessions.
- Work iteratively: Just like working with a human writer, it’s important to remember that ChatGPT might not get everything right on the first try. Be patient and take the time to steer the AI in the right direction, refining its output through iteration. If you find a particular instruction useful, incorporate it into your context-setting prompt.
- Focus on smaller content: GPT-3.5 works better with smaller content, such as individual sections of an article. GPT-4 is more adept at handling longer pieces, but it’s generally better to use separate conversations with the AI to create an outline and then tackle each major section individually.
- Use a collaborative approach: Treat ChatGPT as a valuable peer rather than a subordinate. Large language models tend to respond to users at their apparent level, so providing professional-looking prompts will increase your chances of receiving professional-looking output.
Avoiding over-reliance on AI-generated content
I’ve also been experimenting with ChatGPT for coding purposes, specifically to assist me in learning new technology stacks (a subject I plan to explore in a future article). On a few occasions, GPT-4 had downtime during a session, which left me feeling somewhat at a loss—my AI “companion” had suddenly vanished! GPT-3.5 was still online but it isn’t quite as good; I much preferred to use GPT-4. This highlights the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to become dependent on these AI tools. Here are some tips to maintain a critical perspective and ensure high-quality output:
- Evaluate AI-generated content: Always scrutinize the AI’s output for accuracy and relevance. Consider whether you agree with the content, if there are any factual errors, or if there are implications you might not endorse.
- Identify what’s missing: Analyze the output for any missing nuances or specific points you would have made if you were writing the piece yourself. It can be challenging to spot these gaps once you have a seemingly complete piece of writing, but it’s an essential step in maintaining the quality of your work.
- Invest enough time: Keep in mind that critically editing ChatGPT’s output will take time. The “AI productivity boost” might not be as substantial as one might initially think. If you’re unable to invest the necessary effort, the content might not meet your standards.
- Take ownership: Remember that, ultimately, it’s your content and your name on the article. Treat ChatGPT as a helpful tool, but don’t forget your responsibility for the final output.
I would say my experiments with ChatGPT as a writing assistant were a success. I don’t think I saved time, overall, more that I was able to make steady progress by using the AI’s output as a starting point. I think this style of using LLMs—to create first drafts and to suggest additions—will work for a variety of tasks in the software world, from story writing, to acceptance testing, to documentation. I don’t think the AIs are here to take our jobs—you still need a human expert working with the output—but I do expect these kinds of tools will help humans produce higher quality results. Working effectively with AI tools has become a key skill for knowledge workers, starting right now.
25 April 2023: Published